Will Labor and Business Groups Reach A Deal On Immigration Reform?

Recently, Congress has been dealing with numerous issues in reforming our immigration laws to meet some of the pressing societal matters, whether it be family members living here illegally, businesses wanting more qualified individuals to come work in the U.S. or trying to retain and keep those in hard sciences here with easier access to other work visas. One of the current debates within the immigration overhaul concern the needs of some businesses versus the major labor organizations in the U.S. There is some disagreement between these two groups on how to create availability of lesser skilled work visas for those who may not come in under other work visas that require substantially more education.

Right now, both sides agree to a common set of principles, including the creation of a new visa for lesser-skilled workers who come to the U.S. for year-round work. At present, no visa category provides for that type of immigrant worker. The only lesser-skilled worker visa category that exists is the H-2b visa, a seasonal worker visa that allows individuals to come to work during seasonal periods and usually within very specific fields.

With the Senate group approaching a self-imposed late-March deadline for a bill, there have been signs that negotiations between labor and business are strained. Both AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Republican John McCain (Ariz.), one of the senators working on the reform bill, have acknowledged that the two sides might not reach a deal on how to handle flows of lesser-skilled workers. However, despite the public doubts, negotiations are still very much alive, according to Randy Johnson, the senior vice president of labor, immigration, and employee benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“I think it’s a sign that it’s not all a bed of roses, but one could make the same argument about the various disagreements that I’m sure you’re seeing in the press over legalization versus citizenship,” Johnson said in an interview. “But all of these are just bumps in the road, and we hope to get through them and still come up with a deal.”
Ana Avendaño, a top immigration policy aide at AFL-CIO, said that unions believe they have an advantage in negotiations because of the reelection of President Barack Obama, whose immigration plan — which is being withheld while members of Congress craft their own bill — aligns closely with labor goals.

“This is the mandate that the president was elected with,” said Avendaño. “To actually fix the immigration system in a way that respects the democratic rights of the immigrant community. And so anything short of a path to citizenship just isn’t going to satisfy the people who elected the president.”
Labor isn’t just backing a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented currently living in the country. The new visa program for lesser-skilled workers should also contain an eventual path to citizenship, Avendaño said. The framework released last month by labor and business said that the new visa would “not keep all workers in a permanent temporary status,” but doesn’t spell out a specific roadmap to citizenship for those workers. Avendaño believes the balance of power is tipping in favor of worker rights.

Johnson, who has been involved in immigration talks on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, didn’t disagree, but painted a fuller picture of where the deal making stands. Relying on the small majority that Democrats enjoy in the Senate, Johnson understands that it will still take 60 votes to get the bill to pass the Senate, which will require Republicans’ support of the bill. If labor and business can’t come to an agreement on lesser-skilled workers, a Senate bill might face a hard road ahead.

While how to handle future flows of lesser-skilled is still under debate, the Senate group working on reform has come to an more-detailed agreement on a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, the Los Angeles Times reported on Monday.

Immigrants without papers would need to apply for a probationary legal status, and meet certain qualifications, such as passing a criminal background check and filing federal income taxes. A person qualifying for the probationary status would not be allowed to receive federal public benefits, including food stamps, family cash assistance, Medicaid and unemployment insurance, the L.A. Times reported. The senate group hasn’t finalized how long it will take for undocumented immigrants to receive a green card, but legislative aides said the delay could be 10 years or longer.

The agreement represents a significant step forward in the legislative process, but major questions about the bill still remain. One of the biggest will be negotiations over future flows of lower-skilled workers. Whether those questions will be answered remains to be seen with the imposed deadline the Senate committee has with this bill. There are still many questions involved in the bill that Congress hopes to pass that will address the immigration reform needs of this country, and hopefully the deal makers are working towards addressing those questions and coming to a bill that will be passed, giving us the immigration reform so desperately needed at this time.