As the Memorial Day recess neared, the Senate was debating a compromise immigration reform measure. The proposal, however, faced strong opposition from lawmakers from both parties as well as labor and industry groups.
A group of Senate legislators on May 17 announced that they had struck a deal that they believed could break an impasse preventing immigration reform from moving forward. But shortly after the agreement was reached, lawmakers of both parties criticized the proposal. Debate was expected to continue beyond the Memorial Day break.
The proposal includes provisions aimed at strengthening border controls. It also would create a temporary guest worker program that would limit employment to three, two-year terms, with at least a year spent outside the U.S. between each term. Illegal immigrants in this country already could apply for a "Z" visa that would allow them to remain in the U.S. 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...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 player in the discussions that produced the proposal.
President Bush praised the agreement as a "much needed solution" that will deliver an immigration system "that is secure, productive, orderly and fair."
But critics were quick to weigh in. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a Judiciary committee member, says he has "serious concerns" about the plan. "I simply cannot and will not support any legislation that repeats the mistakes of the 1986 amnesty," he says.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says the compromise represents a "good starting point" but he is concerned about the structure of the temporary worker program. "We need to improve the bill as it moves through the legislative process," Reid says.
Organized labor also doesn't like the guest worker provisions. "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," says AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.
Some construction groups oppose the proposal. Jenna Hamilton, assistant staff vice president with the National Association of Home Builders, says, "We want to support a bill that fixes the problems we see out there--but we're concerned that the way the bill is crafted right now, it's not going to fix them."
Hamilton calls the proposal's guest worker program unworkable because it forces immigrants to leave after two years and does not allow employers to sponsor good employees for extended stays or citizenship. "In our industry you have to put a lot of time and resources" into craft and safety training for individual employees, she adds.
NAHB also does not support language in the bill that gives the Dept. of Homeland Security the right to make employers responsible and potentially liable for their subcontractors' employees.
The Associated General Contractors finds the liability provision "troublesome," says Kelly Knott, congressional relations director for human resources and labor. "We have some pretty big concerns with the language, but are working to try to fix these concerns through the amendment process," Knott says.