With the Senate's passage of a wide-ranging immigration bill, the legislative focus moves to the House. In contrast to the Senate's comprehensive measure, approved on June 27 by a 68-32 vote, GOP House leaders are going piece by piece, moving bills on various immigration issues through committees.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" who played a key role in the bill, called the vote "a giant step forward toward solving our immigration problem today." It has a lengthy path to citizenship for immigrants with illegal status and tougher border security, including a "surge" of 20,000 more U.S. Border Patrol agents. The House may have different views on immigration issues, noted Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), adding, "We are ready to sit down and negotiate."
Before any such talks begin, however, the House must pass a bill or bills. The Judiciary Committee has cleared several measures so far. One would expand visas for high-skilled technology and engineering workers; one would broaden the E-Verify worker-identification system; and another one would set up a new agriculture guest-worker visa. The Homeland Security Committee approved a border security bill. None of those measures reached a floor vote by the July 4 break.
As developments unfold, perhaps the most critical construction issue will be how the House deals with temporary workers in that industry. The Senate bill would establish a new "W visa" for guest workers in construction and other industries. It limits construction W visas nationwide to 15,000 a year. Organized labor strongly backs the cap; construction contractor groups strongly oppose it.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) proposed an amendment to delete the construction visa ceiling, but withdrew it in committee deliberations. It did not get a floor vote.
Geoff Burr, Associated Builders and Contractors vice president for government affairs, expects introduction of a House guest-worker bill that "will look very similar to the W-visa program in the Senate except that it will not have a construction-specific cap." James Young, an Associated General Contractors congressional relations director, also expects a bill, saying, "We're cautiously optimistic that there won't be any carve-outs in it."
Unions will fight a House anti-cap proposal. Tom Owens, AFL-CIO Building & Construction Trades Dept. spokesman, says, "We will aggressively mobilize our membership to stay engaged with House members ... to educate them on why the hard cap on the W-visa program needs to remain in place for the construction industry." Richard Greer, Laborers' International Union of North America spokesman, says, "We want to maintain a bill that addresses the fundamental principles that we think should be in it, and that's the pathway to citizenship [and] maintaining a cap on the new visas in the industry."
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