Here is where I part company with many other immigration analysts....I don't see that much to celebrate about the labor-business deal that was reported everywhere yesterday. And I think it is way too premature to be talking about this agreement as clearing the last hurdle to reform. It may clear the last political hurdle before the Senate releases the bill, but this deveopment will have a limited effect in the overall effort toward passage of comprehensive immigration reform. Why am I in such a sour mood about this supposedly great development?
The putative labor-business agreement covers the admission of low-skilled workers. As Ted Hesson of ABC News described it, it is "for non-seasonal, non-agricultural jobs such as retail, janitorial, and construction jobs" and hotel worker. There would be a new visa, a W visa, that would be created for these workers. These workers' immigration status would not be tied to one employer, they could remain in the U.S. and change employers. The numbers of these workers would vary with economic need as determined by a new government office, the employees would be paid higher than the prevailing wage (to discourage employers from hiring non-U.S. workers unless absolutely necessary), and some skilled jobs in the construction industry would be exempt.
Abdicating governance-On the one hand, I understand why the Senate Gang of 8 told labor and business to negotiate among themselves and come up with something that is acceptable to both sides. Such a move could be politically smart, the Senate is thinking, because these two groups killed the last comprehensive immigration reform attempt. BUT, I have to ask why the Senate has abdicated its own judgement about the national interest in favor of outsourcing this part of the bill to two groups that have only very narrow interests in mind. In order for our immigration system to function well, it needs to be viewed as a whole, not in patchwork, ad hoc parts, which has been how it has been done so far and why the system is broken. What about the potential problems of bringing in a large number of unskilled workers whose prosepcts for citizenship are unclear? There really is no such thing as a temporary worker. Of course having interest groups write large portions of the bill is nothing new inside the beltway, but to do so in such a public manner may backfire.
Public opinion-I actually agree with Marco Rubio on this one, that the Senate needs to slow down and make sure they write a good bill that the public will sign on to. I have argued that there seems to be a disconnect separating the elites/leadership view of a need for immigration reform of both parties and the rank and file. With an unemployment rate that remains 7.7% nationwide, are Americans ready to believe that there is a "shortage" of janitors, retail workers, and construction workers? Or will the public instead conclude that U.S. employers simply will not pay wages that U.S. workers are willing to work for?
Unclear about path to citizenship--The reporting on this story is unclear about this point because the two parties themselves are likely not agreed on it nor is either party qualified to write this part of the law. The New York Times reports that, "Under the deal, guest workers would be allowed to pursue a path to citizenship and to change jobs after they arrived in the United States." I'm scratching my head as to how that will work.
Under current law, there are really only 4 legal ways you can get a Green Card that would put you on a path to citizenship: through family sponsorship of a close family member who is a citizen or Green Card holder, sponsorship through an employer who under current law must demonstrate no other U.S. worker can fill the position, humanitarian admissions under asylum/refugee status, and the bizarre diversity visa lottery. If a person has applies for the new W visa, it means that they could not take any of the existing 4 options and this is the only way they legally qualified to get into the U.S. What then would later qualify them to apply for permanent residence under the current framework of laws? Although I support the idea of not keeping someone permanently in a temporary status, this part of the W visa makes absolutely no sense at all in terms of its mechanics.
Parts of the comprehensive reform are coming into focus. I'm just not sure I like this part.