In a Jan. 25 press release, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) unveiled the broad outlines of the America COMPETES Act, a bill designed to increase American competitiveness in STEM fields, manufacturing, and rare earth metal extraction; however, the bill would also allow for the importation of thousands of new refugees and other immigrants as America faces an unprecedented crisis at its southern border.
Several provisions in the COMPETES Act are focused on increasing the United States’ extraction of semiconductor metals and production of microchips, an area that America has allowed east Asia to dominate over the past several decades. In 1990, America produced around a third of the world’s microchips; by 2021, that number had careened to only 12 percent according to the Semiconductor Energy Association (pdf).
A major aspect of the COMPETES Act will be to revitalize this sector of the American economy, in addition to several other areas that the United States has lagged behind in recent years.
It would also condemn and sanction the western Chinese Xinjiang province, where Uyghur Muslims have faced systemic persecution at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Uyghurs have been used by the CCP as guinea pigs for the central government’s surveillance state ambitions: Rows of surveillance cameras line residential areas, CCP agents monitor Uyghur’s online activity and communications, and government informants in the region report Uyghurs that are critical of the CCP.
Uyghur dissidents and other CCP rivals are imprisoned in modern-day concentration camps, where they are forced into slave labor.
Those fortunate enough to avoid the concentration camps have watched as the CCP has erased Uyghur culture, teaching Beijing-approved values in the classroom. At the same time, the central government has inundated the region with CCP-loyalist Han Chinese in an effort to destroy the Uyghurs by outnumbering them.
The result of this, said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in a speech on the Senate floor in December, has been a “genocide.”
The COMPETES Act would condemn these human rights abuses, imposing new sanctions on the region.
Pelosi’s release on the bill says that it “[e]xpresses the sense of Congress that the ongoing atrocities in Xinjiang must be condemned.” It would, in addition, “impose sanctions based on systematic rape, coercive abortion, forced sterilization, or involuntary contraceptive implantation policies and practices in Xinjiang.”
But the bill would also increase refugee flow into the United States at a time of unprecedented illegal immigration at the southern border.
Rather than working with U.S.-aligned Muslim states to resettle Uyghur refugees in countries more amenable to the Uyghurs’ own cultural background, the COMPETES Act would designate Uyghur Muslims as “priority 2 refugees of special humanitarian concern,” further increasing the inflow of foreign nationals into the United States.
And Uyghurs are not the only ones who would be eligible for resettlement as refugees in the country. It would also give Hong Kong nationals Temporary Protected Status, creating 25,000 new visas for Hong Kong residents.
While these new visas may seem like an important protection for people facing humanitarian crises, a representative from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) warned against such a simplistic attitude, predicting that the visas would ultimately hurt rather than help the regions’ people.
FAIR, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to reforming immigration laws to better serve the interests of American citizens, has in the past opposed a number of programs that would increase the inflow of foreign nationals into the United States.
Preston Huennekens, FAIR’s Government Relations Manager, said of the COMPETES bill, “FAIR supports efforts to reinvigorate America-based manufacturing and STEM education, particularly in light of the threat from the People’s Republic of China. Strengthening American manufacturing and advancing American scientific research is a noble cause that Congress must address.
“However,” Huennekens continued, “this bill makes a critical error in expanding immigration at the expense of American workers.”
Huennekens explained how, far from hurting the Chinese state, these new visas would actually serve its interests.
A mass exodus of dissident citizens, Huennekens argued, “is exactly what the CCP wants—to get rid of courageous pro-Democracy advocates in Hong Kong and further solidify their grip on the city. The U.S. tried this approach with Cuba, and the result was a brain drain of anti-Castro dissidents which allowed Castro to strengthen his communist rule on the island.”
Huennekens noted that the bill would expand immigration in other ways as well.
“This bill creates an entirely new category of ‘investor visas,'” he explained. “We already have these in the form of the controversial EB-5 and E category investor visas. FAIR has long opposed these programs.”
“Congress would be better served finding ways to encourage and build upon American entrepreneurial ventures, rather than establishing another ‘golden visa’ program that degrades American citizenship by relegating it to a dollar amount.”
Under President Donald Trump, immigration and refugee inflows were significantly reduced in accordance with the real estate mogul’s central 2016 campaign promise. In 2016, the United States had an annual refugee cap of 85,000 according to the Migration Policy Institute; by 2020, Trump had reduced that cap to just 18,000, by far the lowest level in decades.
Upon taking office, President Joe Biden increased the refugee cap dramatically. In 2021, the cap was raised to 62,500 per year; in 2022, the United States could accept as many as 125,000 refugees, a higher level than ever existed under President Barack Obama.
At the same time, the Biden administration has significantly cut down on the enforcement of immigration laws at the southern border, leading to unprecedented levels of illegal immigration.
Huennekens argued that amid this ongoing crisis, “It makes no sense to further increase immigration levels when we have a raging crisis at our southern border and an economy struggling under the weight of inflation and COVID-19.
“It is unconscionable to continue importing tens of thousands of new foreign workers when Americans are struggling as it is,” Huennekens concluded.
Biden has faced especially strong opposition from border states for his immigration policy.
On Jan. 28, a coalition of eight attorneys general lodged a lawsuit against the president for alleged abuse of the Central American Minors refugee program.
If Democrats try to resettle thousands more foreign nationals under the COMPETES Act, Biden could find himself facing further resistance from states, who are becomingly increasingly frustrated with the administration’s laissez-faire attitude toward immigration.