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Immigration Encounters Business-Labor Rift that Undid 2007 Bill

May 20, 2013
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Movement in both the House and Senate on revising U.S. immigration law belies a long-running rift between business and labor that could derail the bill.

After four years of negotiations, a bipartisan group of House members who struck a deal on a broader immigration bill last week have given up on finding a compromise over how many temporary workers to allow into the U.S.

As another bipartisan measure advances in the Senate, a series of amendments backed by technology and construction companies and opposed by the AFL-CIO labor federation risk upsetting a delicate balance.

With Democrats and Republicans in both chambers intent this year on achieving the first major revision of immigration law in a generation, the reopening of fissures between business and labor serves as a reminder of how tough the challenge is. That divide is the one that scuttled the last attempt in 2007.

"The same looming threats that were there in 2007 are present," said Ana Navarro, a former adviser on Hispanic issues to Arizona Senator John McCain, who recently met with President Barack Obama before his trip to Latin America. McCain is among a group of eight senators who wrote the bipartisan immigration bill.

"Everybody’s keenly aware it could end up being a really significant issue," Navarro said of the labor-business divide.

Numerous obstacles mark the road to a new immigration system. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and member of the bipartisan Senate team, has said he supports a biometric data proposal designed to toughen U.S. border security that Democrats call a poison pill.

Possible Deal-Breaker

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and Judiciary Committee chairman, may offer a measure to give foreign nationals in same-sex marriages with U.S. citizens the same benefits as heterosexual couples, which Rubio and other Republicans have termed a deal-breaker.

In addition, while the Senate is advancing comprehensive legislation -- offering a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., toughening border security and providing for temporary workers -- House leaders plan to offer a series of stand-alone bills. They include one on border security and others on temporary worker programs that fall short of Obama’s call for a far-reaching plan.

Finally, there are lawmakers on both sides of the debate who probably don’t even want a deal, said Mario Lopez, president of the Hispanic Leadership Fund and former executive director of the House Congressional Hispanic Conference.

"Some Republicans just don’t want reform at all and are happier with the status quo," said Lopez, a Republican. "There’s also a certain segment of the left that doesn’t want to solve the issue. They’d like to set it up so that what happened in 2007 happens again."

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