Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) on Friday said a Republican bill that would change the visa program raises the "ugly head of racism," and charged that the legislation would have the effect of shutting out various racial groups from access to U.S. visas.
"That is racist, if not in its intent, than certainly in its effect," he said.
"Republicans have just received historically low votes from minorities in the past election, yet they want to create an immigration system that gives visas with one hand while taking visas away from minorities with the other," he added. "It is a Trojan horse, and the ugly head of racism will rear its ugly head if this Trojan horse, H.R. 6429, becomes law."
Johnson's remarks prompted a sharp exchange with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a supporter of the bill who said he was "insulted" by Johnson's charge. Issa asked whether Johnson was accusing Republicans of being racist.
"I'm not accusing of anybody of racism," Johnson said. "I don't know what is in the head of those who support this bill. But if it's not racist in its intent, it's certainly racist in its effect."
Issa argued that 12,000 African citizens would be able to benefit from the STEM visa program created by the bill, and 1,500 Nigerians. The bill would create a new green card for people with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
"I must tell you, I went to college with a lot of people from around the world, and they were very diverse, and the grad students were very diverse," Issa added. "And I'm personally insulted that anyone would use, even loosely, the term of racism as part of a statement related to merit-based advanced degrees.
"I believe the gentleman needs to go to a few college graduations and see master's and Ph.D. candidates if he's going to refer to this in any way as racist," Issa said to Johnson.
The House is expected to pass the bill around noon on Friday.