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Dan Liljenquist: Immigrants we should not be turning away

Published: Thursday, April 25 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

There also was a time when we welcomed these immigrants with open arms, recognizing that any one of them might become the next Albert Einstein, the next Henry James, or the next Ayn Rand. America was better for it. We thrived on the success of our immigrants.

Associated Press

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A couple of weeks ago, I met one of the latest casualties of our dysfunctional federal immigration system. Sophie Cole, a British citizen who earned her law degree from the College of William and Mary in Virginia, is passionate about America. She loves our system of government, fearlessly defends the Constitution, and has dedicated her career to protecting individual liberties and freedoms. Sophie has lived in this country legally for several years. She respects and obeys the laws of the land.

Recently, Sophie was offered a position as a staff attorney for a non-profit organization in Washington, D.C., that fights against compulsory unionism. Her prospective employer applied for a high-skilled immigrant visa (called an H-1B) on Sophie’s behalf. Three weeks ago Sophie was notified that her H-1B visa application was denied. She was heartbroken when I spoke with her. Barring a miracle, she will be forced to return to England. In her own words, Sophie’s American dream is over.

H-1B visas are notoriously difficult to get because the demand for them far exceed the supply authorized by federal statute. These artificial caps keep Sophie and thousands of other highly skilled, pro-American individuals out of the United States.

With Sophie’s situation on my mind, I was pleased to discover that Sens. Orrin Hatch, Amy Klobuchar, Marco Rubio and Chris Coons have introduced the Immigration Innovation Act of 2013 (know as “I-Squared”) to address several issues with the H-1B visa program. I was also pleased to see that Utah Sen. Mike Lee has signed on as a co-sponsor.

The I-Squared legislation modernizes the H-1B visa program. I-Squared (1) raises the annual H-1B visa cap from 65,000 to 115,000, (2) eliminates the H-1B visa cap for individuals with advanced degrees from U.S. universities, (3) provides work visas for spouses of H-1B holders, and (4) allows H-1B holders to reapply for new H-1B visas without having to travel outside of the U.S. as part of the application process.

The legislation also allows the number of H-1B visas issued to flex up to 300,000 per year based on employer demand. All of the money generated from incremental application fees would be placed in a new “Promoting American Ingenuity Account.” These funds would be used to promote the economic competitiveness of the U.S. through educational initiatives in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields (also know as STEM fields).

There once was a time when the best and the brightest in the world were drawn, as if by gravity, to the United States. There also was a time when we welcomed these immigrants with open arms, recognizing that any one of them might become the next Albert Einstein, the next Henry James, or the next Ayn Rand. America was better for it. We thrived on the success of our immigrants. I believe the I-Squared legislation will help restore this philosophy to our federal immigration system.

Unfortunately, the I-Squared legislation, should it pass, will be too late to help Sophie Cole. The only person who could intervene on Sophie’s behalf would be President Obama, and that is not likely given Sophie’s career choices and her conservative, free-market values.

Still, several of Sophie’s closest friends have started a White House petition called “Let Sophie Stay”. I encourage you to support Sophie’s petition.

Instead of complaining about her situation, Sophie is working hard to educate others about the failings of the current H-1B visa program. In a comment reflective of her love for this country, Sophie told me she hopes sharing her experience will help members of Congress develop better immigration policies. I hope so too.

Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate.

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