Politics

Graham says immigration bill delayed by union vs. business fight

Photo of Neil Munro
Neil Munro
White House Correspondent

The Senate’s draft immigration bill has been delayed by new disagreement between business and labor groups, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham, the bill’s primary GOP author and advocate.

“We’ve got an agreement between labor and business about the guest worker program, but we’re revisiting that [and] we’re hoping to get this thing done in the next couple of weeks,” Graham said in an interview with NBC’s David Gregory April 6.

That’s a sharply different message from that pushed by the bill’s leading Democratic author and advocate, Sen. Chuck Schumer.

“I think we’re doing very well,” he said on “Face The Nation,” CBS’ Sunday talk show.

“I think that we hope that we can have a bipartisan agreement … hopefully, we can get that done by the end of the week,” Schumer said.

But even that optimistic message was a walk-back by Schumer, who has repeatedly said the closed-door negotiations are going well, and that he expected a bill to be revealed early this week.

Under the pending bill, GOP politicians would accept a multi-stage amnesty for at least 11 million illegal immigrants. Some conservative critics of large-scale immigration say this measure would provide Democratic candidates with a large pool of new Democratic-leaning Latino voters in roughly 13 years.

In exchange, GOP politicians expect Democratic politicians to open the door to an increased inflow of low-wage workers with foreign visas. The pending bill would raise the annual number of seasonal and permanent visa-workers from today’s level of 690,000 to a million or more. (RELATED: New bill would import 1 million workers a year)

“If we’re reasonable with 11 million, if we all give them a pathway to citizenship … then the Democratic Party has to give us the guest worker program to help our economy,” Graham said.

“That’s what we’re arguing over,” he said.

The trade-off is politically controversial, because at least 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed, and because the cost to taxpayers may reach trillions of dollars.

Graham has been a strong advocate for a guest worker program. In 2012, for example, he voted to block new federal rules that would have forced employers to pay extra for the use of imported H-2B workers at Kiawah Island resort and other sites. (RELATED: Graham helped Jamaican workers work at elite country club)

However, the current H-2B rules have been upended by a March 21 decision from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The court directed the Department of Labor to drop wage rules established under President George W. Bush, forcing a delay in approving visas for some of the roughly 66,000 H-2B workers requested by employers for 2013.

The decision is important for the employers because it might delay the arrival of workers or force a wage increase.

The court’s decision may also have derailed the March deal between the AFL-CIO unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is a pillar of the pending Senate immigration bill