Foreign governments jump into U.S. immigration debate

Some countries have succeeded in adding their voices to Congress' immigration overhaul package

By Katie McDonough
Published May 12, 2013 7:26PM (UTC)
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(Associated Press)

Did you know that, along with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and the other members of the "Gang of Eight," the governments of Poland, Ireland, South Korea, Brazil and others had a hand in shaping the 867-page immigration reform package currently being considered in Congress? Well, they did.

As reported by the New York Times, these countries and others have gotten in on the good-old American pastime of throwing money behind their interests, successfully lobbying to secure immigration benefits for their citizens that are denied to immigrants from other places around the world:


Ireland and South Korea extracted measures that set aside for their citizens a fixed number of the highly sought special visas for guest workers seeking to come to the United States. Poland got language that would allow it to join the list of nations whose citizens can travel to the United States as tourists without visas. And Canadians successfully pushed for a change that would permit its citizens who are 55 and older and not working to stay in the United States without visas for as much as 240 days each year, up from the current 182.

South Korea alone has four lobbying firms in the campaign, paying them collectively at a rate that would total $1.7 million this year, according to required disclosure reports. Other nations generally relied on their own ambassadors and embassy staff to make the push, meaning there is no way to track how much has been spent on the effort...

Lobbyists working for South Korea — including Brian D. Smith, a White House aide during the Clinton administration; Scott D. Parven, a former Senate aide; Kirsten A. Chadwick, a Bush White House aide; and Jonathan R. Wakely, a former C.I.A. political analyst — made dozens of calls and visits to Capitol Hill in recent months to push for a special “professional visa” for its citizens, focusing on central players on the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, the Justice Department records show.

The lobbyists or the political action committees run by their firms have also made campaign donations to lawmakers who support their cause, in some cases just weeks before the helpful language was introduced, campaign finance records show. Foreign officials are prohibited by law from contributing to American political campaigns.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) views the involvement of foreign governments in designing an immigration reform package as a fairly uncontroversial matter, telling the Times through a spokesperson: “Each of these provisions makes individual sense on the merits. They each solve inequities in the existing immigration law.”

But that doesn't mean diplomats pushing to secure immigration perks wouldn't rather keep their involvement a little more hush-hush: “If we could stay below the radar, we would much prefer it,” one senior official at an embassy in Washington told the Times.

Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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Gang Of Eight Immigration Immigration Reform Marco Rubio