The shift to Democratic control in the new Congress may resuscitate the stalled effort to revamp federal immigration policy. Says Marshall Fitz, American Immigration Lawyers Association advocacy director: "I think we've got a better opportunity to get things done and done right than, quite frankly, we ever have."
New bill may not focus just on enforcement.
Kelly Knott, an Associated General Contractors' congressional relations director, sees improved chances for a broad-based immigration bill in the House and points to previous work in the Senate. "The Senate has already demonstrated that they can and want to pass comprehensive reform," she says, adding that the situation in the House is still "an uphill battle." AGC favors a package combining stronger border security, a new guest worker program and a viable way to address undocumented workers.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to make immigration reform a top priority. In the House, discussions with new Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and others suggest "they also get it that this needs to be on the agenda and are interested and even eager to move something forward," says Cecilia Muñoz, vice president at National Council of La Raza.
Immigration reform backers say both houses are likely to move bills that more closely resemble the wide-ranging measure the Senate passed in May than an enforcement-only bill. The major immigration bill Congress cleared this year was legislation authorizing fences and barriers on about 700 miles of the 2,000-mile border with Mexico.
Recent immigration raids illustrate the need for better verification and that some industries still struggle to find workers.
John Gay, a National Restaurant Association vice president, says if Congress does not approve a comprehensive bill, the main federal thrust will default to an enforcement-only policy.
Recent federal immigration raids of meat-processor Swift & Co., a participant in the federal employee-verification pilot program, may deal a blow to efforts to encourage businesses to join the program, says Gay. Participating employers check employees' social security cards against a central database.
AGC's Knott says the raids illustrate the need for a better verification system and also that some industries, including construction, still are struggling to find enough workers.