On Wednesday, the Senate voted to cut the number of temporary guest workers in half, from the proposed 400,000 a year -- as sought by the White House -- to 200,000. A final vote on the bill is expected in June.
The bill, a "grand bargain" between Republican and Democratic senators, has been touted by key negotiators Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Jon Kyl, a Republican from Arizona, as a compromise which they will band together to protect from amendments on the floor of the Senate.
"The bill isn't exactly the way I would have written it, but it is a strong compromise and the best chance we will have to finally fix this broken system," said Kennedy in a statement. "The price of inaction is too high."
Opposition to the bill has been intense on both the right and the left, with both sides claiming that the bill fails to take into account their concerns about immigration and gives away too much to the other side.
Opposition from the right has focused on the perceived "amnesty" being granted by the bill as a form of reward for people who have entered and/or stayed in the country illegally.
"I voted for amnesty more than 20 years ago. I believed at the time that by giving illegal aliens blanket citizenship, we would solve the problem. I was wrong. We've now got at least 12 million people illegal aliens thumbing their nose at our laws," said Republican Senator Chuck Grassley in a statement. "We found out that by rewarding illegality, we only get more illegality."
"Under the bill, all permanent resident applicants must apply from the back of the line, from their home country, pay higher fines than in last year's bill, pass a criminal background check and show a nearly perfect work history, English proficiency and familiarity with American civics," wrote Kyl in an op-ed on Sunday in the Arizona Republic. "Those with the best records would have the highest priority for a green card, but none could earn citizenship in less than 13 years."
On the left, strong opposition was voiced by both Democratic lawmakers and immigrants and civil liberties groups.
"This bill is completely unwieldy, unworkable and unrealistic," said the director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Caroline Fredrickson, in a press conference with journalists on Tuesday. "The way the (guest worker system in the bill) is structured, it will be very difficult for people to claim their rights."
Others have claimed the bill will create an underclass of temporary guest workers, who will be denied the ability to claim their rights and benefits and live at the mercy of the companies who bring them into the country.
"If you're going to bring in foreign workers, you need to afford them every single labor right and benefit that any other American receives," Deepa Fernandes, a radio journalist and author of "Targeted National Security and the Business of Immigration," told IPS. "(The guest worker program) doesn't put people on a path to permanent status and locks workers into an indentured servitude type of situation."
Another critique of the legislation is that it would expand the scope of enforcement for immigration laws and increase the penalties for workers who enter the country illegally or overstay their visas and would require workers to return home for a year after each two-year work period.
"It's a law enforcement model of immigration," said Fernandes. "(It will require) a huge transfer of resources to further militarization of the border and law enforcement."
Despite the bipartisan proponents of the bill, both parties see huge problems with supporting and passing a bill which is guaranteed to antagonize voters across the ideological spectrum.
Presidential hopeful John McCain, an Arizona Republican and a proponent of the bill, has come under fire from other Republicans, including campaign rival Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts.
On the left, Kennedy's high-profile support of the bill has been met with a lukewarm response from the Democratic Party with a number of senators and representatives expressing concern with the bill's harsh treatment of existing illegal immigrants and a guest worker system that falls short of providing full rights and benefits to workers.
Democratic Senator Harry Reid voiced his party's concerns with the lack of protection for immigrants' rights in the proposed legislation.
"The bill allows 400,000 low-skilled workers to come in for three two-year terms, but requires them to go home for a year in between. This is impractical both for the workers and for their American employers, who need a stable and reliable workforce," Reid said in a written statement.
"We must not create a law that guarantees a permanent underclass -- people who are here to work in low-wage, low-skilled jobs -- but do not have the chance to put down roots or benefit from the opportunities that American citizenship affords."
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Albion Monitor May
23, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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