Narrow steps provide some hope for immigration

The immigration reform bill passed by the House on Friday is getting mixed reviews.

That's all right. Any proposal to change immigration policy is certain to be divisive. We're just glad to see Congress make a start toward resolving our broken system instead of continuing to bury its head in the sand.

On a 245-to-139 vote, largely divided along party lines, the House approved the Republican-sponsored STEM Jobs Act.

The bill has an admittedly narrow focus. It would eliminate the so-called diversity visa program and grant permanent residency to as many as 55,000 foreign students who graduate from U.S. universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math fields.

The diversity program the bill would eliminate allocates new green cards to 55,000 people selected at random out of a pool of more than 14 million applicants each year.

That provision caused Democrats in the House to balk at a bill that might otherwise have garnered bipartisan support.

The Obama administration gave the bill a cool reception. A statement released by the White House on Friday said the administration does not support "narrowly tailored proposals" that do not meet long-term objectives of achieving comprehensive reform, The Associated Press reported.

Without the support of House Democrats or the president, it's unlikely the Democratic-controlled Senate will take up the measure.

But we're still encouraged.

Even if it's doomed at this point, the bill attempts to address a couple of serious problems.

The nation's high-tech industries suffer from a chronic shortage of qualified workers. It's foolish to force people who were trained for these jobs at American universities to leave and work for foreign competitors.

The bill also would allow spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents to come to the U.S. after waiting one year for their green cards. Currently, it typically takes two years or more before family members can join legal aliens.

We're a little dismayed by Obama's reference to comprehensive reform. We could wait forever for a bipartisan package that deals with everything from border security to the question of what to do with the 11 million illegal aliens already here.

But the White House also said it was encouraged that Congress "appears to be ready to begin serious debate on the need to fix our broken immigration system."

That debate might not go anywhere if the starting point has to be an all-encompassing package of reforms. Such unrealistic expectations have stalled all progress on this difficult issue for too long.

The president and Congress need to take a serious look at making progress where they can.