|Showing Strength. Many thousands of demonstrators turned out across the U.S. to support immigration. (Photo courtesy of AP)|
“The battle must go on,” bill advocate Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) declared on April 7 after a cloture vote on a compromise crafted by Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) failed by a 60-39 vote. Supporters vow to revisit the issue after the Easter recess.
Officials from both parties are pointing fingers at each other over the pact’s demise. Some Republicans claim that Democrats killed the proposal by blocking amendments. Democrats counter that those provisions essentially would have gutted the legislation.
Lawmakers ranging from Kennedy to Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) had hailed the Martinez-Hagel plan as a breakthrough. A key difference between the Martinez-Hagel legislation and a proposal approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 28 involved the way undocumented workers would be handled. Martinez and Hagel would have divided undocumented workers into three groups: those in the U.S. longer than five years, who would be permitted to stay; those in the country less than two years, who would be sent to their home countries; and those here between two and five years, who would be required to return home briefly before being allowed to return as temporary workers.
The House in December passed a more stringent bill, focusing heavily on border enforcement and security.
“I’m not quite ready to say the compromise has fallen apart,” says Kelly Knott, the Associated General Contractors’ congressional relations director for human resources and labor. “I believe what happened [on April 7] was politics trumping policy….I’m not certain whether policy will win out over politics when they get back, but I’m hopeful that it will.”
Adds U.S. Chamber of Commerce Director of Immigration Policy Angelo Amador: “Republicans and Democrats [in the Senate] are working as if this is moving forward.” He says that “people now feel that there is time to reach a consensus” to refine the bill beyond what was agreed to in the compromise. For example, negotiations continue on how an employment verification system should be phased in and what triggers and standards should be applied, Amador says.
With severe work force shortages threatening construction now and for the foreseeable future, AGC favors legislation that strengthens U.S. borders, creates a guest worker visa and establishes a realistic way of addressing undocumented workers already in the country. “We view it as a three-legged stool, and if you don’t have one of the legs, you don’t have a very strong stool,” Knott says.
Balancing U.S. border security with an accommodation of a willing work force that provides many needed economic functions raises the issue of whether construction has become too reliant on illegal immigrants as a source of labor. Not so, said 63% of 556 respondents to a recent online poll, at www.enr.construction.com.
According to another recent online poll with 326 respondents, the top focus of any new federal legislation aimed at controlling illegal immigration should be securing our borders from unauthorized entry (43%), levying heavy fines on employers who hire illegals in order to eliminate the demand (23%), reshaping green card regulations to allow more of the kinds of workers we need into the country (17%), and legitimizing and accounting for the current population of illegal immigrants in the U.S. (12%).
s hundreds of thousands of Latino and other groups rallied across the nation on April 10 for immigration reform legislation, lawmakers and political observers remained optimistic about prospects for a bill, even though a bipartisan proposal was blocked in the Senate.