Labor and Business Reach Deal on Immigration Issue


Has No Life - Lives on TB
March 30, 2013

WASHINGTON — The nation’s top business and labor groups have reached an agreement on a guest worker program for low-skilled immigrants, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said on Saturday. The deal clears the path for broad immigration legislation to be introduced when Congress returns from its two-week recess in mid-April.

Guest Workers Are at Crux of Groups’ Deal on Immigration (March 30, 2013)
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, convened a conference call on Friday night with Thomas J. Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Richard L. Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s main federation of labor unions, in which they agreed in principle on a guest worker program for low-skilled, year-round temporary workers. Mr. Schumer is one of eight senators from both parties who have been negotiating an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.

Pay for guest workers was the last major sticking point on a broad immigration package, and one that had stalled the eight senators just before the break. The eight senators still need to sign off on the agreement between the business and labor groups, the person with knowledge of the talks said.

“This issue has always been the deal breaker on immigration reform, but not this time,” Mr. Schumer said.

The accord between the influential business and labor groups all but assured that the bipartisan group of senators would introduce their broad immigration legislation in the next few weeks. Their bill, which they have been meeting about several times a week since the November election, would provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country. It would also take steps to secure the nation’s borders.

A similar bipartisan group in the House has been meeting on and off for nearly four years, and hopes to unveil its own immigration legislation shortly.

The agreement resolved what the pay level should be for low-skilled immigrants — often employed at hotels and restaurants or on construction projects — who could be brought in during labor shortages.

Labor groups wanted to ensure that guest workers would not be paid less than the median wage in their respective industries, and the two sides compromised by agreeing that guest workers would be paid the higher of the prevailing industry wage as determined by the Labor Department or the actual employer wage.

Under the deal, guest workers would be allowed to pursue a path to citizenship and to change jobs after they arrived in the United States.

Another sticking point, involving the specific type of jobs that would be included in the guest worker program, was also resolved. Though low-skilled construction workers will be included in the visa program, construction unions persuaded the negotiators to exclude certain types of more skilled jobs — like crane operators and electricians — from the program, officials involved in the talks said.

According to officials with the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the program would start at 20,000 visas, rising to 35,000 visas in the second year, 55,000 in the third and 75,000 in the fourth. In the fifth year, the program would expand or shrink based on the unemployment rate, the ratio of job openings to unemployed workers and various other factors. The agreement calls for a maximum of 200,000 guest visas granted each year.

One third of all visas available in any given year would go to businesses with fewer than 25 employees. No more than 15,000 visas per year would go to construction occupations.

Business groups, which had long been pushing to allow in 400,000 such guest workers each year, will get what they regard as an adequate number to meet the needs of employers.

Mr. Schumer also spoke on Saturday with Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, to update him on the agreement. President Obama is eager for an overhaul of the immigration system and has threatened to step in with his own plan if Congress does not move quickly with legislation of its own.

“The president continues to be encouraged by progress being made by the bipartisan group of senators,” said Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman. “We look forward to seeing language once it is introduced, and expect legislation to move forward as soon as possible.”

But Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and a member of the bipartisan group, sent a letter Saturday to Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, urging against “excessive haste” in considering the soon-to-be-introduced legislation. The support of voters will be crucial for passing any immigration law, Mr. Rubio said in the letter, and “that support can only be earned through full and careful consideration of legislative language and an open process of amendments.”

Shortly before the conference call on Friday night between Mr. Schumer, Mr. Donohue and Mr. Trumka ended, one of the men suggested that the three of them get together soon for dinner; it had been, they all agreed, a long few weeks.


Has No Life - Lives on TB
A Word of Caution From Rubio on Immigration
March 31, 2013

As several of the senators taking part in a bipartisan effort to overhaul to the nation’s immigration laws appeared on the Sunday talk shows to sound an optimistic note, Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and a member of the group, offered a strongly worded note of caution. In a statement released by his office on Sunday, the headline — in all capital letters — read: “No agreement on immigration legislation yet.”

“I’m encouraged by reports of an agreement between business groups and unions on the issue of guest workers,” Mr. Rubio said in the statement. “However, reports that the bipartisan group of eight senators have agreed on a legislative proposal are premature.”

Mr. Rubio was referring to news reports on Saturday saying that the nation’s leading business and labor groups had reached an agreement on a guest worker program for low-skilled workers — an issue that had been among the final sticking points in the immigration negotiations among the group of eight senators.

“We have made substantial progress, and I believe we will be able to agree on a legislative proposal that modernizes our legal immigration system, improves border security and enforcement and allows those here illegally to earn the chance to one day apply for permanent residency contingent upon certain triggers being met,” Mr. Rubio said. “However, that legislation will only be a starting point.”

On Saturday, as news of the deal between business and labor broke, Mr. Rubio sounded a similar note of caution, sending a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, warning him against “excessive haste” in changing immigration law.

Mr. Rubio, one of four Republicans in the group, was elected in 2010 as part of the Tea Party wave, and seems determined to emerge from any immigration bargain with his conservative credentials intact. At the outset, he went on something of a one-man media tour, trying to sell the broad principles behind an immigration overhaul to conservative television and radio hosts. He has recently said that an immigration bill needed to be the result of a deeply deliberate process.

His statement on Sunday seemed yet another attempt to make sure that the immigration talks did not get out ahead of him — and that he remains integral to every step of the process.

On NBC News program “Meet the Press,” two other senators in the bipartisan group — Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, and Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York — were asked about a possible disagreement with Mr. Rubio, and both men scrambled to praise their colleague.

“It’s semantics,” Mr. Schumer said, brushing off the possibility of any tension. “And he’s correctly pointing out that that language hasn’t been fully drafted. There’ll be little kerfuffles. But I don’t think any of us expect there to be problems.”

Mr. Schumer added, “He’s been an active and strong participant, he’s had a lot of input into the bill.”

Similarly, Mr. Flake called Mr. Rubio, “extremely important to this effort,” and he agreed that any immigration legislation should have to go through “regular order” — meaning it will be marked up in committee and then again amended on the floor of the Senate.

But both he and Mr. Schumer said they remained confident that a deal would be happen. “I expect we’re going to have an agreement among the eight,” Mr. Schumer said of the senators.

Speaking on the CNN program “State of the Union” on Sunday, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a member of the group, said that while the eight senators still needed to sign off on the language of an immigration bill, they had largely reached an agreement in principle, and he was confident that a bill would be introduced imminently.

“I think we’ve got a deal,” Mr. Graham said. “We’ve got to write the legislation, but 2013, I hope, will be the year that we pass bipartisan immigration reform.”

Mr. Graham, offering even more specifics than his colleagues, added: “It will be rolled out next week. Yes, I believe it will pass the House because it secures our borders; it controls who gets a job.”

Mr. Rubio’s statement called for a healthy debate if and when the group does introduce an immigration bill.

He said the process would include “committee hearings and the opportunity for other senators to improve our legislation with their own amendments.”

“Eight senators from seven states have worked on this bill to serve as a starting point for discussion about fixing our broken immigration system,” he said. “But arriving at a final product will require it to be properly submitted for the American people’s consideration, through the other 92 senators from 43 states that weren’t part of this initial drafting process. In order to succeed, this process cannot be rushed or done in secret.”