Senators compete over worker protections in immigration bill

The most contentious debate was provoked by an amendment from Republican Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley that would require some companies to declare they had tried to hire Americans before they hired guest workers.

His amendment was rejected by the committee after Schumer said it threatened a core political compromise in the bill, which would provide work permits to at least 11 million illegal immigrants.

“If people have the right to get a job, it won’t depress wages as much … what we’ve tried to do is cause America to grow at a more rapid rate, and cause middle-class salaries to grow at a more rapid rate,” he said.

Whitehouse said he would vote against Grassley’s measure because it “would be a deal-breaker” for the entire bill, but also promised to seek a compromise prior to the vote in the full Senate. “I do have an open mind. … [The] amendment make[s] a lot of sense,” he said.

Democratic Minnesota Sen. Al Franken echoed Whitehouse, saying “I’m happy to work with Sen. Grassley on this, but I don’t want this to be a deal-breaker” during the markup.

“I find myself in that camp,” added Democratic Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee who controlled the fast-paced markup session.

Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein also backed worker protections, while lauding the overall bill. She said she met with older workers who had been sidelined in the current recession, and added that “I felt very badly for those people.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, followed the same path by voting against major changes to the bill while also lauding worker-protections.

“Some of the protections that were added by the Gang of Eight for American workers are really important,” she said.

Leahy has scheduled another series of amendment votes on Thursday and Friday. The bill’s advocates hope to bring the bill to the Senate floor in June.

“All the Democrats are sticking together and they’re voting down amendment after amendment after amendment,” Sessions told radio host Laura Ingraham Wednesday. “They’re going to ram it through without amendments of significance,” he added.

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