On Capitol Hill, the focus is now the Senate. Republican and Democratic leaders there struck a deal May 11 that they hope will revive efforts to pass a bill before Memorial Day. The agreement, which allows for open debate on a number of amendments, is a turnabout for Democrats, who previously blocked action on numerous Republican riders.

The agreement requires that seven Judiciary Committee Republicans will be on the panel to work out differences with the House if the Senate can pass a bill. That provision was a key to the deal, says Jack Martin, special projects director for the Federation for Immigration Reform. He says supporters of compromise bills do not want the moderate provisions stripped by conferees who back the enforcement-oriented bill the House passed in December.

The bill on the Senate floor is similar to one worked out in April by Sens. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.). It would divide undocumented workers into three categories: those in the U.S. longer than five years, who would be permitted to stay; those here less than two years, who would be sent to their home countries; and those here between two and five years, who would have to go home briefly before being allowed to return as temporary workers.

But construction officials are troubled by language added by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) that would make general contractors liable for subcontractors that hire illegal workers. Kelly Knott, an Associated General Contractors’ government affairs director, says her group is working with lawmakers to change the provision. “I’m hoping we’ve made some headway,” she says.

E. Colette Nelson, American Subcontractors Association executive vice president, says the liability provision could be “costly and potentially damaging to business relationships.” One question is how prime contractors would evaluate subs. “If they’re going in and looking at books and checking records, then business and competition and intellectual property issues” could come up, she says.


ction on immigration legislation, a key construction issue, is heating up. As the Senate began debate on a compromise bill, President Bush on May 15 called for swift passage of comprehensive reform, including provisions for “guest workers” and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens who have been in the U.S. for a long time. But perhaps to win over conservatives who want tighter border enforcement, Bush said up to 6,000 National Guard troops support the Border Patrol along the Mexico border.