Several left-wing legislators and union leaders are decrying the critical guest-worker portions of the Senate’s controversial immigration bill.
That’s a problem for President Barack Obama, who has described the pending bill as a “historic achievement.”
“You have massively high unemployment for young people, yet we’re talking about expanding visas so that young people from abroad can serve as life guards, become ski instructors, become front desk people, when young people in this country desperately need jobs to pay for a college education,” independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the only admitted socialist in the Senate, told the Washington Post recently.
“IFPTE believes it is not appropriate or fair for politicians to trade the jobs of American workers … in exchange for a path to citizenship,” said the letter. That is “a cruel betrayal of American workers,” the latter added.
The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus also signaled opposition to the bill’s guest-worker provisions.
“We want our people not only to have these [graduate-level] jobs, but to build capacity, K through 12, to prepare young people for these jobs,” Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge told National Public Radio in May.
“If you say you’re going to have as many as 100,000 high-skilled visas come into this country every year, then that is saying to my children, ‘You know what? Don’t even go into that field, because there’s not going to be a place for you,'” she added.
The guest-worker programs provide an incentive for corporate support of a bill to which many GOP legislators have not yet committed.
“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,” GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said on NBC in April, just prior to the completion of the so-called Gang of Eight’s bipartisan immigration plan.
“That’s what we’re arguing over,” he said. (RELATED: Rubio raises possibility of jumping off immigration reform push)
The corporate lobbying has partially obscured strong opposition to the bill from the GOP’s base.
Democrats are hoping to push a bill through the GOP-run House by winning a lopsided victory in the Democratic-run Senate.
“We’re hoping to get 70 votes, up to 70 votes,” New York Sen. Chuck Schumer told NBC’s “Meet The Press” Sunday.
“If we can come out of the Senate with close to a majority of the Republican senators and almost every Democrat, that may change the equation in the House and the thinking in the House among mainstream Republicans … they may want to go for our bill,” said Schumer, who heads the so-called Gang of Eight that is pushing the immigration bill.
The Senate is expected to begin a floor debate on the bill next week. Most senators have not shown which way they plan to vote.
The GOP opposition is led by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions.
“There is no doubt that this legislation will hurt struggling U.S. workers — immigrant and native born, union and non-union, poor and middle class — a fact about which too many politicians and labor leaders have been much too silent,” Sessions said last week. “Whether the interests of the American people are answered in the coming days — or ignored — will be an important test of our Democracy.”
The pending bill would boost immigration to roughly 30 million over the next decade.
It would also allow a guest-worker inflow of at least 500,000 graduate-level workers each year, and could create a U.S.-based pool of more than 3 million graduate-level guest workers.
The bill would also create an annual inflow of at least 100,000 blue-collar workers and 100,000 agricultural workers.
The guest-workers would compete for jobs sought by each cohort of 1.8 million American graduates, and if they work for several years, could rack up enough points to win a valuable green card.
Roughly 20 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed.
If enough Democrats balk at the guest-worker provisions, that could derail the entire bill.
Sanders’ vote is especially important, because he could help sway the votes of traditional liberal Democrats, such as retiring Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin.
Ten of the 55 Democrats in the Senate voted against the 2007 immigration rewrite.
They include Sens. Harkin, Jay Rockefeller and Max Baucus — all of whom will retire in 2014 — plus Sens. Sherrod Brown, Debbie Stabenow, Claire McCaskill, and Jon Tester.
Several more Democratic Senators face re-election in states won by Gov. Mitt Romney. They include Sens. Mark Pryor from Arkansas and Mary Landrieu from Louisiana.
The jobs issue is critical for voters, especially if they’re worried that American workers can be legally replaced by foreign guest-workers, Donna Conroy, director of Bright Future Jobs, told The Daily Caller.
Progressive Democrats, such as California Sen. Barbara Boxer and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, are expected to back the far-reaching bill.
Democrats, including Sanders and Fudge, as well as the AFL-CIO, all say they back the amnesty and family unification portions of the bill, which would bring in at least 30 million immigrants during the next 10 years.
Most of the immigrants have little education, and would compete against low-skilled Americans for jobs.
High-skilled Americans, moreover, would face competition from the inflow of graduate guest-workers and would also have to pay the estimated $6.3 trillion bill for government benefits to the 11 million amnestied immigrants over the next 50 years.
The guest-worker programs, however, prompted opposition from Sanders.
“What I do not support is, under the guise of immigrant reform, a process pushed by large corporations which results in more unemployment and lower wages for American workers,” Sanders told the Washington Post.