Senate Democrats blocked Republicans from bringing up an immigration bill on Tuesday that would have offered foreigners with U.S. advanced degrees in math, science, technology and engineering permanent U.S. residence.
Democrats said they support the high-tech part of the STEM bill, but not a part that eliminates a diversity lottery.
Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas sought unanimous consent to consider the bill, which provides some 55,000 visas a year to those with high-tech degrees.
New York's Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democratic leader on immigration policies, objected to Cornyn's request.
House Republicans turned to the bill as a way to show Hispanics, who deserted them in the election, that they are serious about immigration legislation. But it met strong opposition from Democrats because it eliminated another visa program that benefits less-educated people, particularly from Africa.
The bill also included a provision that allowed spouses and minor children of legal immigrants to live in the United States while waiting for their green card application to be processed.
There are some 80,000 of these family-based green cards allocated every year, but there are about 322,000 husbands, wives and children waiting in this category and on average people must wait more than two years to be reunited with their families.
Mexico has the most people on the waiting list, with more than 138,000 people, or 43 percent of all people on the list, according to the U.S. State Department. The Dominican Republic is next, with nearly 31,000, followed by Cuba, with 16,000.
Republicans had added that provision as something as a concession to Democrats, but Democrats balked, saying that it didn't allow relatives to work while they waited in the United States for a green card, and that the provision could not make up for the elimination of the diversity lottery.
Rep. Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who sponsored the measure in the House, assailed the blocking of the bill in the Senate.
“I am disappointed that President Obama and Senate Democrats oppose the STEM Jobs Act," Smith said in a written statement. "This important bill will help us create jobs, increase our competitiveness, spur our innovation, and keep families together."
“The President and Senate Democrats need to join with us to get this small piece of immigration reform done now," he said. "The sooner we start to keep these talented foreign graduates, the sooner they can bolster U.S. competitiveness and help create jobs for America’s unemployed."
This story contains material from The Associated Press.
Elizabeth Llorente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on https://twitter.com/Liz_Llorente