May 30, 2007
The Senate next week resumes debate on immigration reform legislation. Before Congress' Memorial Day recess, the Senate approved an amendment that would increase fees on employers who hire highly skilled temporary workers from other countries. The money would be used to finance scholarships for American citizens studying mathematics, engineering, health care and computer science. The vote, according to The New York Times, "was a victory for Senator Bernard Sanders." This initiative will give American workers a brighter future, discourage companies from displacing Americans from good-paying jobs, and help middle-income families struggling to send their kids to college," Sanders said. Under his legislation, American Competitiveness Scholarships would be funded by raising to $5,000 the current $1,500 fee that companies are charged to bring high-skilled workers to the United States. The scholarships of up to $15,000 a year would go to students pursuing degrees in math, science, engineering, medicine, nursing and other professions. With the scholarships, he said, ''young Americans can get the education they need for these jobs.'' The 59-to-35 vote was Sanders' first successful roll call vote on the Senate floor. Creating the scholarship fund with a surcharge on so-called H-1B visas, he said, "says to those companies that want expanded access to foreign professionals that they have to give something back to our country." He added, "If companies can invest billions of dollars in China and India, it's about time that they invested in the future of the United States of America." Over the last six years, Sanders noted, the median household income in the United States has declined by $1,273. Since President Bush was elected, 5.4 million Americans have slipped into poverty; 3 million more have lost their pensions; and nearly 7 million more have lost their health insurance. "We can and must do better," Sanders said. Providing scholarships, Sanders said, "will preserve American competitiveness in the 21st century, and help middle-income families in this country who are struggling to send their kids to college."