Builders Sharpen Attack on Flawed Immigration Bill
On June 7, just 24 hours after more than 1,250 home builders marched on Capitol Hill to discuss legislative priorities for the housing industry and call on their senators to fix a seriously flawed immigration bill, the Senate voted to derail the controversial measure, leaving its ultimate fate unresolved.
One week later on the evening of June 14, two days after President Bush made a rare visit to Capitol Hill to stump for the bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced a deal to bring the legislation back to the Senate floor as early as the end of this week. However, the situation still remains fluid and it is uncertain whether the bill will be approved by the chamber or become law.
Knowing that the legislation could be resurrected before Congress adjourns for its July 4 recess, NAHB launched a major grassroots letter-writing campaign during the spring board meeting calling on its members to urge their senators to continue making every effort to pass meaningful comprehensive immigration reform. (On the link above, NAHB members can click the "Take Action" button under "Hot Topic" and after filling out a short registration form will be directed to the letter.)
The legislation should provide increased border security, a new employer verification system, a program to address legal immigration into the U.S. in the future and a plan to deal with the 11 to 12 million illegal immigrants who are already here, the letter says.
Builders attending the annual NAHB Legislative Conference in Washington on June 6 were able to meet with their individual senators and weigh in on the issue at the same time that debate on Senate immigration bill S. 1348 was reaching its climax.
A motion to shut off debate on the bill failed when it received only 45 out of the 60 votes needed. After it was pulled from the Senate floor, Reid insisted the bill was not dead.
A breakthrough came days later after Bush endorsed a plan by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to provide an additional $4.4 billion for border security and work site enforcement.
Under the agreement announced by the Senate leaders on June 14, each party will likely be limited to about 10 amendments when debate resumes on the immigration bill.
In the weeks leading up to the June 7 vote, NAHB remained in the forefront as the leading industry voice opposing the bill because of its negative impact on small businesses and the housing community.
Acting as the industry spokesperson on the issue, NAHB Executive Vice President and CEO Jerry Howard conducted interviews with ABC World News Tonight, CNBC, NPR, Bloomberg, Forbes, USA Today, WMAL Radio, the Associated Press, the Washington Times, Congress Daily and the National Journal.
Howard hammered home the message that immigration reform should strengthen the U.S. economy and protect the nation’s borders; provide a workable program to address future, legal immigration into the country; and create a fair and efficient employee verification system.
Howard noted that the problems with S. 1348 were so serious and extensive that major revisions were required. In a letter to the editor published in the May 31 issue of the Wall Street Journal and entitled, “Immigration Reform Bill Threatens Small Business,” Howard laid out the concerns of the home building industry:
“Specifically, the nation's home builders view the bill as counterproductive because it contains onerous provisions regarding employer liability and responsibility for subcontractors; the law could be used to unfairly prosecute an employer who unknowingly hires an illegal alien; general contractors could be held responsible for the legal status of employees hired by subcontractors; the program to provide a future flow of immigrant workers for the construction industry is unworkable; the new, mandated electronic verification system is untested; and the new record-keeping requirements are unduly burdensome, especially for small businesses.”
In addition, full-page ads in Roll Call, the Politico and the National Journal, whose audience is geared toward Washington policymakers, listed NAHB’s objections to the bill and the changes needed to fix the legislation.
On the legislative front, in the days leading up to the June 7 Senate vote, NAHB lobbyists worked tirelessly to urge senators to adopt amendments to improve the bill.
NAHB sent a letter to the Senate leadership designating as a “key vote” an amendment proposed by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) that would have allowed workers to stay in the U.S. for up to six straight years instead of having to return to their home country for a full year every two years.
As the chamber debated the amendment on the Senate floor, Bingaman was shown live on C-Span holding up NAHB’s letter and reading the following passage: “This system essentially makes the entire program in Title IV unworkable for the construction industry. In the residential construction industry, employers spend much time and resources training employees. To arbitrarily lose valued employees at the end of two years, as they are forced to return home for a full year, creates unnecessary amounts of instability in our workplaces, and wastes scarce employer resources.”
The amendment was ultimately defeated by a 57-41 vote.
With immigration reform still unresolved, NAHB launched BuilderLink, its updated national grassroots mobilization program for key federal housing issues in Congress, during the Legislative Conference.
BuilderLink will do more to educate NAHB members about the issues that matter most to the housing industry, connect them to the members of Congress who oversee these issues and provide NAHB members with the materials and resources they need to convey the right message to Congress at the right time.
NAHB members interested in finding out more information about BuilderLink, or who want to write their lawmakers in support of comprehensive immigration reform that takes into account the concerns of the housing and business community, should e-mail Molly Murray at NAHB, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8282.
For further information on where the immigration debate stands in Congress, contact Jenna Hamilton, x8470.