The undocumented worker debate in Washington this week

The Center for Immigration Studies has brought together several newspaper articles about the current status of immigration reform in Washington. The debate is 99% focused on undocumented workers, and involves internal divisions among Republicans. Some want a get tough program alone; others like Specter and Frist want to ensure a continued supply of labor.
Specter trying to forge a consensus
Congress to Debate Illegal Immigration” by Suzanne Gamboa of the AP, 3/2/06 as printed in the Washington Post writes that “Pressure to move forward intensified this week as governors meeting in Washington said they consider immigration one of their major concerns and made them an agenda item in their private meetings with Bush and his Cabinet.
The House managed to pass a border security bill last year – pleasing conservatives clamoring for an immigration crackdown. But that came only after House leaders beat back an attempt by some GOP members to include President Bush’s proposal for a temporary worker program.
In contrast, the Senate is wading right into the thorny guest worker issue. Debate was starting Thursday with the Senate Judiciary Committee taking up an immigration reform bill drafted by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.
Specter told fellow senators in advance that the bill is ‘a framework for building a consensus.’ Specter’s plan would allow immigrants who entered this country before Jan. 4, 2004 and who have jobs to participate for up to six years in the temporary worker program.
[My guess is that since then there has been a net increase of 600,000 in the number of undocumented workers – PFR]

The bill and another proposed by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., would force workers to return to their countries of origin if they want to become permanent legal U.S. residents.
Summary of rival bills
The Cornyn-Kyl legislation goes further than Specter’s and mandates that illegal immigrants leave the country within five years. Sen. John McCain’s bill, co-authored by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., would penalize employers who hire illegal workers but allows immigrants participating in the temporary worker program to work toward eligibility for legal permanent residence.
Presidential politics is an undercurrent in the debate. Majority Leader Bill Frist, McCain and Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, who has pushed immigration legislation to provide a steady supply of workers for the agriculture industry, are considered potential 2008 presidential candidates. Frist told several key senators early last month that he planned to take up immigration on the Senate floor March 27, leaving open the possibility that he might offer his own immigration bill if the Judiciary Committee did not yet have a consensus bill.
How it plays in Georgia
Solutions elusive, divisive for illegal immigration” by Bob Kemper of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/2/06 talks about Georgia and the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus.
Some Georgia congressmen represent suburban counties that have seen the Hispanic populations — including a large contingent of illegal immigrants — surge 200 to 300 percent since 1990. They say they are regularly inundated with complaints about the pressures illegal immigrants are placing on local schools, jails, hospital emergency rooms and public services. ‘That issue over the three or four years has seemed to have moved higher and higher up the ladder. It’s hugely important,’ said Rep. Phil Gingrey, a Marietta Republican elected in 2002.
The House, with the unanimous support of Georgia’s Republican delegation as well as Democrats Jim Marshall of Macon and John Barrow of Savannah, passed a bill in December focused on increasing border security, including building walls along the border and requiring employers to verify the residency status of all employees.
Rep. Charlie Norwood, a Republican from suburban Augusta, is calling for 36,000 to 48,000 U.S. troops or National Guard members to be dispatched immediately to secure the border. Bush’s immigration plans and many of the reform plans being weighed in Congress would take up to four years to fully implement, allowing 1 million illegal immigrants a year to enter the United States, he said.
‘We are by default agreeing to allow an additional 4 million illegal aliens into our country, the equivalent of the entire population of South Carolina,’ Norwood said. ‘Think about that. We’re being asked to add a 51st state, populated entirely by low-income illegal aliens.’
Rep. Nathan Deal, a Republican from Gainesville, tried unsuccessfully to include in the House bill a provision that would prevent U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants from automatically becoming U.S. citizens.
Congresssional Immigration Reform Caucus
The growth of the issue can be seen in the makeup of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, an informal study group in the House that is calling for tighter immigration controls. Of Georgia’s seven House Republicans, all are members except John Linder of Duluth, who could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
The caucus, led by Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), one of Congress’ most vocal critics of the immigration system, has grown from 15 members, mostly from border states, to 91, most hailing from the suburbs of Atlanta, Greensboro, N.C., Charlotte and other cities — even Indianapolis and Cincinnati — that a generation ago had few foreign-born residents.
Deborah Meyers of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington said that the dispersion of illegal immigrants to areas unused to dealing with them is driving up voter anxiety that gives Congress a potent incentive to act. ‘There’s a perception — a legitimate perception — that the system is out of control,’ she said. ‘And it is out of control.’
Immigration bills splitting Republicans
Bipartisan Call for Guest Worker Program at Odds With Push to Secure Borders
By Jonathan Weisman” in the Washington Post, March 2, 2006; Pg. A09
Many Republicans, especially those from the West, have said passage of legislation to enforce border security is vital to their reelection, and do not want this merged with other measures that would open up work options for immigrants.
On the other side, supporters yesterday talked up efforts to open new opportunities for migrant workers. ‘I smell victory in the air,’ thundered Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), at a rally of immigrant hotel workers in Union Station.
Privately, however, voices on both sides concede they would rather see legislation die in Congress than accept the compromises that may be necessary to win passage. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) wants a bill to the Senate floor by March 27, but aides say the Senate Judiciary Committee could take three weeks just to draft one.
‘This is going to be very, very difficult,’ said Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who supports a guest worker program and says immigration is one of the top two or three topics roiling the country. ‘You’ve got a lot of emotions on both sides.’
‘The gap is huge,’ agreed Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), who has been leading the charge for a bill that deals only with border security. ‘I don’t think you can square this circle.’
Spector’s new H2 visa
Beginning today, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) will try, when his committee begins drafting the Senate’s answer to a tough border security bill that passed the House in December with no guest worker plan. The draft would authorize the hiring of new border agents, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and other new technologies on the border, expand the definition of ‘alien smuggling’ to combat those who shelter illegal immigrants, and toughen penalties on smugglers and illegal immigrants who repeatedly cross the border.
But the controversy will lie with his new H-2C visa, which could be offered to hotel workers, cleaners, restaurant workers, meat processors and other ‘essential occupations’ by employers who say they could not fill the posts with a U.S. worker. The visa would be good for six years, after which workers would have to return to their home countries for at least a year. The visa would offer no special path toward citizenship or a legal ‘green card.’
[The H-2A and H-2B visa programs have been available for years. In a prior posting, I estimated that for Florida, the numbers coming in that way were equivalent to 1% of the entire undocumented worker population in that state. – PFR]
In an election year, when some Republicans fear they could lose their hold on Congress, the issue is equally bedeviling. Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman has warned his party that an anti-immigrant stand could jeopardize years of outreach to Latino voters, a position seconded by Kennedy in his hunt for GOP support for his bill.
‘The people on the other side are going to have to decide whether they want to alienate a whole, growing constituency in this country,’ he said.