Congress Still Wrestling With Fate of Immigrant Workers
After a bipartisan group of senators announced a major compromise last Thursday on a reform measure that would benefit an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., procedural and partisan wrangling shelved the measure, at least through the two-week congressional spring recess, and perhaps indefinitely.
An unnumbered Senate Judiciary Committee†bill crafted by†Sens. Edward Kennedy†(D-Mass.) and Arlen Specter†(R-Pa.) would have created both a temporary guest worker program and provided a path to citizenship for nearly all the illegal immigrants in the U.S.
When it became apparent that this measure was opposed by several conservative Republican senators and didnít have enough votes to get passed, Sens. Chuck Hagel†(R-Neb.) and Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) drafted a compromise bill that would create a tiered system for the nationís illegal immigrants, dividing them into three categories:
- Those who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years, about 7 million people, would be offered eventual legal residency without having to leave the country. They would be required to pass national security and criminal background checks and pay a fine and prove they have paid all federal and state taxes.
- Illegal immigrants who have lived in the country for two to four years, about 3 million people, would have to travel to a U.S. border crossing and apply for a temporary work visa. They would be required to meet all stipulations for temporary workers (pass background checks and pay any taxes owed). They would be eligible for permanent residency and citizenship over time, and it is estimated it would take up to 10 years to receive a green card under this program.
- Those here less than two years, estimated at approximately 1 million, would have to return to their countries of origin and apply for a temporary work visa from their home country, though they would not be guaranteed acceptance into the program.
Senate leaders believed the Hagel-Martinez plan had sufficient bipartisan support to be passed, but the measure was derailed by procedural roadblocks.
Senate Democrats refused to allow several amendments to be offered on the Senate floor, fearful that they would significantly alter the nature of the bill and concerned about putting Senate Democrats who are up for re-electiion this year in the position of having to take roll call votes on some tough border security issues.
Angered by the Democratsí efforts to stop consideration of the amendments, the Republicans voted on April 7 against invoking cloture on the bill, preventing it from moving forward. The 60-38 vote fell closely along party lines.
After the vote on the compromise bill, an alternative introduced by Majority Leader Bill Frist†(R-Tenn.) was also shelved, by a vote of 62-36. The Frist bill, S. 2454, contained provisions that only addressed border security, interior enforcement and employer provisions.
Sen. Frist and Judiciary Chairman Specter have both indicated that they would like to pass an immigration reform bill this year that tightens border security and establishes a guest worker program.
Specter has indicated that he will introduce the Hagel-Martinez plan as a stand-alone bill after the Senate returns from its spring recess and will urge Frist to allow time for a floor vote prior to the July 4 recess.
The House on Dec. 16 passed a strict immigration bill (H.R. 4437, the "Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act") that is opposed by NAHB and would focus on border security and punitive enforcement penalties for employers. It fails to include a guest worker program that would help meet the workforce needs of NAHB members nationwide.
To read legislation, click here†and enter the bill number in the box at the center of the page.
For more information, e-mail†Jenna Morgan Hamilton†at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8407.