Comprehemsive Reform debate

Our daily update continues, the following topics were discussed today at the Senate:
• A Coleman amendment to allow local government officials to inquire about immigration status was narrowly defeated, 48-49.

• A Dorgan amendment to sunset the new worker program also was defeated, 48-49.

• A Sanders amendment to dramatically increase H-1B fees was passed, 59-35.

• A Vitter amendment to prevent legalization for the undocumented was defeated, 29-66.

In general, this “bargain” bill is unacceptable and unworkable in its current form. However, while the process is still very much in flux, AILA are working closely with our allies to improve the bargain as much as possible during Senate floor debate over the next few weeks. We will keep you posted about amendment information as it becomes available.

Dorgan Amendment to Sunset New Worker Program (#1181)

Senator Dorgan (D-ND) introduced an amendment, co-sponsored with Senators Durbin (D-IL) and Boxer (D-CA), that would sunset the new worker program after 5 years. In proposing the amendment, Senator Dorgan again recited the criticisms he made of the program prior to his failed amendment on Tuesday, an amendment which sought to eliminate the new worker program entirely. He argued that the new worker program amounts to nothing more than a “Byzantine” attempt by certain interest groups to lower the wages of American workers by hiring cheaper foreign workers. Senator Durbin added that a new worker program without sunset provisions would create a permanent underclass of people who never assimilate into the fabric of the country, who become dispossessed of rights and become disillusioned in the process. By example, he cited the current plight of working class Turks in Germany, and North Africans in France. Senator Kennedy (D-MA) then took the floor and again issued a strong defense of the new worker program. He stressed the necessity of such a program for the economy and for American businesses, and argued that, far from driving down wages and taking American jobs, such a program actually ensures that American wages remain competitive and fair. Without a new worker program, he added, the hiring of cheaper, undocumented workers will persist and American workers will suffer, quite the opposite of Senator Dorgan’s earlier contentions. Furthermore, Senator Kennedy added that without a new worker program, the exploitation of undocumented workers by unscrupulous employers will continue, and the border will remain a sieve for more undocumented workers to come through. No job can be offered to any immigrant, he continued, before it is openly advertised and offered to American workers first. Finally, he contrasted the situations in Germany and France, brought up by Senator Dorgan, with that in the U.S., stating that the underlying bill provides new workers an opportunity to earn points toward permanent resident status under the new merit-based point system. Such a possibility does not exist in those other countries. Senator Specter (R-PA) echoed similar sentiments in support of the new worker program, and urged his colleagues to vote against Senator Dorgan’s amendment. Senator Kyl agreed, calling this new Dorgan amendment merely a “light version of the amendment that was defeated” on Tuesday, and adding that “sunsetting” the program does nothing to eliminate illegal immigration into the country, since employers simply won’t have the workers they need to fill labor shortages and immigrants will continue to cross the border seeking available jobs. This amendment was defeated, 48-49.

Sanders Amendment Raising Fees for H-1B Visas (#1223)

Senator Sanders (I-VT) introduced an amendment that would increase the fees for H-1B visas from $1,500 to $8,500. This additional fee would be on top of existing fees, and funds would be used for training and scholarship programs. Senator Sanders listed the Teamsters Union and the AFL-CIO among supporters of his amendment. Without this amendment, Senator Sanders said, “skilled middle class and upper middle class Americans” would be hurt, and their wages would continue to be suppressed. Senator Sanders cited evidence that certain U.S. companies admit hiring foreign H-1B workers over American workers because “foreign workers are willing to work for less money than Americans,” earning “huge profits” as a result. Just prior to the vote, Senator Sanders announced that he had made changes to his amendment, dropping the fee for H-1B visas from the $8,500 he proposed earlier, down to $5,000. Following Senator Sanders’ announcement, Senators Kennedy and Specter expressed their support for the bill. This amendment was accepted, 59-35.