Home builders will be watching closely this month as the U.S. Senate is set to debate immigration policy no later than March 27.

The NAHB is on record opposing the strict bill passed by the House late last year that focuses on border security and would impose fines of as much as $25,000 per worker for anyone who hires an undocumented laborer.

The House bill also calls for building fences in five locations along the U.S.-Mexico border and classifies illegal entry as a felony. The House bill does not include a guest worker program that would allow immigrants an easier path for working in the country legally. There are more than 10 million illegal aliens here in the United States today, and slightly more than half of that number is in the workforce, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

President Bush has long favored a guest worker policy, as does the NAHB and major business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Like most Americans, we believe border security reforms are important,” says Jerry Howard, the NAHB's executive vice president and CEO. “However, reform must include a system by which immigrants can legally enter the country to work,” he adds. “Millions of workers are currently needed to sustain our nation's workforce, which is critical to our economic well-being. It's critical that any legislation must create an efficient, temporary guest worker program that allows employers to recruit legal immigrant workers when there is a shortage of domestic workers.”

The Senate debate will likely focus on a framework for a guest worker program for new immigrants and what to do about the illegal aliens already in the United States.

One proposal, by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), calls for a guest worker program in which workers would be issued a temporary work visa for two years and be required to go back home for one year. Workers could participate up to three times. Under a proposal backed by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), guest workers could obtain temporary visas for three years and then extend their temporary status for another three years.

On the issue of undocumented workers, under the Cornyn-Kyl bill, illegal aliens would have five years to leave the United States and apply to enter the country legally. This program, called Mandatory Departure, allows for illegals to return to the United States as temporary workers after a short period of time. At press time, it was unspecified if workers could apply at the U.S.-Mexico border or if they would have to return to their country of origin to do so.

The McCain-Kennedy proposal calls for illegal aliens to be eligible for a six-year temporary visa if they pay an up-front fine of $1,000, prove they have been working in the United States, are paying taxes or have plans to pay back taxes, and agree to a security screening. Under this program, called Earned Legalization, after the six-year period, illegal aliens would be eligible to become legal permanent residents if they pay an additional $1,000, prove they have kept a job during the six-year period, demonstrate they have studied English and U.S. civics, and pass a security screening.