The House and Senate are Closer to Reaching a Deal on Immigration Reform Bill

Recently, the House and Senate are coming closer to reaching a deal on the sticking issues that have held up comprehensive immigration reform. In particular, the Senate has finally reached an agreement on how to handle the issue regarding visas for low skill laborers. Senator 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.

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.

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
The agreement resolved what the pay level should be for low-skilled immigrants. 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.

With the House, the issues needing resolved concern the pathway to citizenship and the costs in making it possible. In particular, the price of securing the border is steep. People involved in the talks are hopeful that the cost can be offset with increased visa fees. But Republicans are more concerned about the burden undocumented workers could put on the nation’s entitlement structure — that is, the massive cost that are absorbed officially into the nation’s newly implemented health care system. The GOP is considering demanding that language be inserted into any bill to make it clear that 11 million new immigrants cannot get plopped onto the nation’s social safety net.

Another issue with the House concerns how the bill will be presented. The GOP is also debating internally the appropriate method for eventually bringing such a contentious bill to the floor.

Three committees — Judiciary; Education and Workforce; and Homeland Security — have jurisdiction. There’s a question as to whether all three committees will get a crack at it, or just Judiciary. But giving Judiciary sole jurisdiction presents problems on its own: the committee has immigration hard-liners like Iowa’s Steve King, Arizona’s Trent Franks and Texas’s Louie Gohmert.

The GOP is also mulling skipping the committee process and instead having lengthy discussions among Republicans to work out the legislation’s kinks. This would allow leading conservatives who are crafting the deal with Democrats to explain the policy. That seems to be the preferred path, according to conversations with several GOP aides.

The House is unlikely to vote on one big bill. Instead, the legislation is likely to be moved in parts, so Republicans and Democrats can vote against elements they oppose. Republicans say reforming visa laws for high-tech workers is key to a compromise. The talks, which have been going on in some form for nearly four years, have been extremely quiet and limited to rank-and-file lawmakers. As the discussions near completion, the GOP leadership is providing strategic counsel. Sources described the talks anonymously, because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the sensitive negotiations.

While it shows that the House and Senate are moving forward with having a bill to present in their respective chambers after the Congressional recess, it remains to be seen whether the bills will address all of the issues on both sides of the party lines and if something will reach the President’s desk. That compromises are being made is a good sign that the House and Senate will provide a comprehensive bill that has been long overdue.