Photo By Associated Press
Key Players Schumer (center), with other members of the Senate "Gang of Eight" who pushed for the bill, called the vote "a giant step forward."

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."