The great immigration debate remains in the news. An announcement by a bipartisan group of eight senators on January 28 that they had developed a plan for comprehensive immigration reform was given considerable coverage by the national media.
As the “Gang of 8” senators — Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — took to the airwaves the next day to promote their plan, President Obama traveled to Las Vegas to unveil his own vision for immigration reform, saying “now’s the time” to replace a system he called “out of date and badly broken.”
Though the plan (described as only a “blueprint”) is still being hammered out as we write, public statements from some of the senators give us a fair indication of what a finalized proposal might include.
For example, Sen. Schumer spent about an hour outlining the senators’ proposed immigration bill while visiting a dairy farm in upstate New York. The local Livingston County News reported on February 28 that Schumer is looking to change the current situation in which federal scrutiny on undocumented workers makes it difficult for dairy farmers to find enough workers. The bill proposed by Schumer, the paper noted, “offers a fair path to citizenship for the workers and provides a ‘future flow’ of farm labor.”
As to what is meant by a “future flow” of labor, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO have been holding meetings over the past couple months to help the “Gang of 8” senators to put together a system of guest worker visas to provide a source of lower-skilled laborers that would to some extent replace the current system of hiring illegal immigrants. According to “Breakthrough Reached Between Business, Labor on Guest Worker Program” (CQ News, March 30, 2013), the chamber had earlier stated a preference for admitting 400,000 guest workers each year, but has now agreed with labor on a new guest worker program that would be phased in over several years, starting with 20,000 per year and expanding to a cap of 200,000 per year. A “safety valve” would allow the number to exceed the 200,000 cap if employers are willing to pay a premium. Although such a system of providing hundreds of thousands (or more) of guest worker visas each year would serve to legalize much of the current flow of illegal immigrants, it would also serve as a transition toward essentially open borders between the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
The call by Schumer and his senatorial colleagues to provide a “future flow” of labor by offering guest worker visas closely mirrors concepts found in the document Building a North American Community, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in association with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and the Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internacionales (Mexican Council of International Affairs). More about the CFR and this report shortly.
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