With Congress back in session this week, working groups in the House and Senate will be putting the finishing touches on their immigration bills in hopes of releasing draft legislation in the coming weeks.
For the bipartisan House working group, returning to Washington is especially important since the members prefer to meet face to face. To the best of their aides’ knowledge, members of the group haven’t participated in conference calls over the break, leaving negotiations to their staff.
That means several issues are outstanding, including a deal on a guest-worker program reached by the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as Congress was heading out of town two weeks ago. The House group had not delegated negotiations on that issue to the two groups, as the bipartisan Senate group did, but it could still adopt the business and labor plan.
There’s also no final deal on agricultural workers, who would gain legal status through a different route than other immigrants in the country illegally. A coalition of growers, including the American Farm Bureau, was set to negotiate through the weekend with the United Farm Workers on a visa program for the Senate. The groups are currently arguing over wages and the number of visas in the program, the same issue that plagued the AFL-CIO and Chamber of Commerce. The House is not directly involved in these talks but could adopt the program if a solution is reached.
The House plan will likely contain a special pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants brought to the country as children and for those who have served in the military. People who don’t fall into those categories will likely have a range of options to pursue legal status that reflect the various pathways offered by the current legal immigration system. That will help satisfy a Republican imperative that the vast majority of illegal immigrants have no special path to becoming a citizen.
Republican Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, who is part of the working group, outlined his views in an op-ed that ran over the recess break in The Los Angeles Times. In order to gain legal status, he wrote, “the undocumented must come out of the shadows, register and undergo thorough background checks. They must pay all taxes owed, and pay a fine. They must know English and remain employed and not become a financial burden to American taxpayers. Those who have committed serious crimes or who do not willingly come forward will not be eligible for the program.”
Immigration Immigration Reform