Senate lawmakers announced May 17 that they had struck a deal that could break the current impasse that is preventing immigration reform from moving forward. But many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle remain skeptical that the new agreement can break the stalemate over the state of the nation’s current immigration system.
The compromise includes provisions to strengthen border controls and to create a temporary guest worker program that would limit employment to three two-year terms, with at least a year spent outside the United States between each term. Illegal immigrants in this country already could apply for a “Z” visa that would allow them to remain in the United States for a specified length of time and eventually apply for a green card after paying fines and undergoing a background and criminal record check.
“The agreement we just reached is the best possible chance we will have in years to secure our borders and bring millions of people out of the shadows and into the sunshine of America,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), a key proponent of immigration reform who was a key participant in the latest round of discussions.
President Bush praised the agreement as a “much needed solution” that will deliver an immigration system “that is secure, productive, orderly and fair.”
But several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle criticized the agreement soon after it was reached. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, “While I appreciate the hard work by my colleagues as we spent countless hours negotiating this very difficult issue, I have serious concerns with the principles outlined in today’s announcement. I simply cannot and will not support any legislation that repeats the mistakes of the 1986 amnesty.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said the compromise represented a “good starting point” but that he had “serious concerns” about some aspects of the proposal, including the structure of the temporary worker program. “We need to improve the bill as it moves through the legislative process.” Reid said he plans to bring the proposal to the Senate floor for debate next week.
Organized labor also criticized the language creating a temporary guest worker program. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, “Without a real path to legalization, the program will exclude millions of workers and thus ensure that America will have two classes of workers, only one of which can exercise workplace rights.”
The Associated General Contractors of America’s director of congressional relations for human resources and labor, Kelly Knott, said that although she had not seen the final language of the negotiated proposal, “there have been drafts that we have seen that contain some very troublesome provisions,” including language that would make employers responsible and potentially liable for their subcontractors’ employees. Although AGC supports the concept of comprehensive immigration reform, “the devil is in the details, and that’s what were concerned about,” Knott said. “We need comprehensive reform…but we can’t be making employers the immigration police. That’s not their job, and that’s not their expertise.”