The introduction of a comprehensive immigration reform bill has received lukewarm support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as well as from industry and some labor groups. Even the bill's authors acknowledge the bill is the first step in the legislative process and that there is room for improvement.
The "Gang of Eight" senators, led by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), introduced the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act on April 17. The sweeping 844-page bill calls for strengthening U.S. border security and would require all employers to enroll in the E-Verify system within five years. It also would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented individuals who entered the U.S. before Dec. 31, 2011, and establish a new entity—the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research—to set annual caps for low-skilled workers in various parts of the country.
Ranking member Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) called the bill "a starting point" that Republicans expect to amend and improve upon as it moves through the Judiciary committee. He said the bill gives the Dept. of Homeland Security too much authority and does not do enough to strengthen border security. "I'm concerned the bill repeats the mistakes of the past … our borders must be secured," he said.
A key sticking point could be the provisions concerning guest worker visas. Business-oriented construction groups say the fixed cap of 15,000 construction workers is unworkable. Many construction firms find it difficult to find American workers to fill jobs, even in a down economy, says Geoff Burr, vice president of federal affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors. When the economy inevitably recovers, employers could be further pinched. "We are seeing a labor market demand that we will not be able to fill," he says.
Terry O'Sullivan, general president of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), disagrees, saying, "We don't see the need for a guest worker program in the construction industry [at all] when we have [high] unemployment." He added that LIUNA is not opposed to the concept of a data-driven system, such as the proposed bureau, that would allow guest workers if there were shortages in certain areas of the country.
Sen. Grassley said the Judiciary Committee could mark up the bill within the next month. Even those who take issue with certain provisions say they hope the bill can be improved. "We do not want to see immigration efforts fail," Burr says.