One of the less attractive legislative developments in recent years has been the use of "must-pass" legislation, like appropriations bills, as stealth vehicles for policy changes. In an earlier day these provisions were called "riders".
There are no hearings, no bills are introduced, there is no floor debate, there are certainly no roll-call votes; the provisions are inserted during the committee process. Members of Congress who want the government to remain funded are faced with the terrible choice: Will I vote to close down the government over this rider, or will I swallow my objections to the item in question and vote to pass the broader legislation? They usually opt for the latter.
These maneuvers often relate to obscure but significant matters. A recent case impacts the visa mills that are used to disguise some illegal alien workers as legitimate students, the subject of a recent Backgrounder issued by the Center: "The Dregs of Higher Education Damage Our Immigration System".
The situation is that a number of low-ranking schools, including the visa mills, secured accreditation only from an entity aligned with the for-profit schools, the not-very-demanding Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), a prosperous, Washington-based, non-profit organization. About a year ago, outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., ruled that ACICS would no longer recognized by his department, and hence those institutions that had ACICS accreditation should be given 18 months to find a new accreditor.
Twelve of those 18 months have passed, and many ACICS-only schools have sought, but have not yet secured, another accreditor (it is a long process, and some of them are very poor candidates).
Here's where the rider (a provision in the pending Senate appropriations bill) comes in. It gives these borderline institutions another 18 months to find a new accreditor, according to a report by Inside Higher Ed.
Since the Department of Homeland Security has taken no steps to close even the most egregious of the visa mills, if this provision stays in the bill it will facilitate the continued presence in the United States of tens of thousands of "students" who have, generally, flimsy ties to flimsy colleges, but in most cases solid, long-term, government-issued work permits.
Opponents of visa mills, if they are unable to kill the provision completely, might move to narrow it by, for instance, seeing to it that the extensions of accreditation do not apply to English as a Second Language Schools or to the three-year work permits, under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, that are awarded to those aliens with degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Many of the visa mills grind out master's degrees in computer-related fields, often in 15-month programs; this gives an alien with modest (at best) skills 36 months of legal work through OPT, which subsidizes employers for hiring the alien alumni rather than U.S. residents (or H-1B workers). The subsidy comes to both employers and working alumni through a tax break — neither the alien workers nor their employers have to pay Social Security or Medicare taxes. A byproduct of the OPT program is that these trust funds for America's elderly are deprived of at least a billion dollars a year.
For background on the insidious OPT program see here.