Late last week, the Senate gave the proposed immigration legislation new life. The bill's revival comes on the heels of pressure and urging from President George W. Bush and various pro-immigration groups. According to Senate Minority Leader Mitchell McConnell (R-Ky.), the bill will be debated in the coming weeks.
"Well, it's a mixed picture. There are good things in the bill and not so good things in the bill," McConnell said on Face the Nation this past weekend. "For example, the most controversial part is the Z-Visa, which critics of the bill believe amounts to amnesty. I'm among those who voted to get rid of that portion, but that amendment failed. So that's a disappointment to many in my party."
"There are other provisions that I think are quite good, like getting rid of the lottery. You know, right now, 50,000 people can come into the United States and get a green card simply by having their name pulled out of a hat. We also got rid of what's called chain migration, which gives some American citizen's second cousin somewhere in the world just as much access to the United States as the next Albert Einstein. That's ridiculous. We also have a funding source in there for border security, which everybody feels very strongly about. So, it is a mixed picture. When we get to final passage, it's hard to know if the votes will be there to pass it or not."
"I think we'll finish Senate consideration of the immigration bill, one way or the other, before the Fourth of July," McConnell added.
A couple of events contributed to the proposed legislation's revival: Bush's endorsement of 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 worksite enforcement, and an agreement by Senate leaders that each party will be limited to about 10 amendments when debate resumes.
"After 9/11, immigration reform is not just a social and economic problem, but also a national security issue of the highest importance. I am pleased that the Senate leadership is going to bring the immigration reform bill back to the floor for further debate and amendment," Graham says in a statement released by his office. "This is a great opportunity for the Senate, in a bipartisan fashion, to reform a chaotic immigration system."
"The challenge is to bring to the table workable solutions instead of political rhetoric that embraces the unrealistic and caters to fear," Graham continues. "I hope the Senate can rise to the occasion because if we fail, it will be years before this issue is dealt with again, and the current chaos will continue to grow. Much is at stake for the Senate and the country as we resume debate on immigration reform."
In reaction to the legislation's revival, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) is urging builders to let their voices be heard with BuilderLink, a grassroots, online mobilization campaign. The NAHB has called for the revision of the previously proposed legislation to protect the interests of builders and other small businesses.
In order to protect builders, the NAHB says it supports a bipartisan amendment by Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and Barack Obama (D-Ill.).
"By ensuring that the responsibility for verifying a worker's immigration status is placed where it really belongs - with the employer who hires and pays them - the Grassley/Baucus/Obama amendment offers a sensible solution to the enforcement issue," says Jerry Howard, executive vice president and CEO of the NAHB. "It also makes it possible for employers to act in good faith and to follow the new rules for determining whether a person is in the country legally."
The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) also are weighing in on the immigration debate. The AGC says that legislation should include: a workable, reliable employment verification process; penalties for employers that are proportionate to the violation; a meaningful guest-worker program; a path to legal status for illegal immigrants who are working and contributing to society; and no employer liability for the hiring violations of subcontractors or vendors.
"I would just reiterate that AGC has long been engaged in the issue of passing comprehensive immigration reform, and we are confident that it is the best approach to securing our borders and strengthening our nation's economy," comments AGC spokesperson Kelley Keeler. "We have asked our elected leaders to take on difficult issues, like immigration reform, and we hope that they will rise to the challenge, do what is right for the nation and continue to work on a bill."
Similar to the AGC, the ABC believes immigration reform must: secure the nation's borders; create a workable system that can be used by big and small employers alike to determine an employee's legal status; create a usable temporary-worker program that will help the construction industry meet increasing labor demands; and allow well-meaning undocumented immigrants a means to earn lawful work status without a mandatory return to their country of origin.
"We're certainly hoping that the Senate is going to take it up again," Gerry Fritz, ABC director of communication, told BUILDER Online. "Our overall view on the immigration bill is, if they don't do anything, it is bad for us. That is a concern for our members. They have to do something."