CIR Daily Update 5/22/07: Debate Begins, Dorgan Amendment Defeated

On 5/22/07, the Senate began formal debate and consideration of amendments to S. 1348. In a 31-64 vote, the Senate defeated the Dorgan/Boxer amendment to eliminate the Y visa new worker program. However, other amendments to curtail the program are likely to follow, beginning with possible consideration of the Bingaman amendment on Wednesday morning. Senator Bingaman’s (D-NM) amendment would cut the number of Y visas from 400,000 down to 200,000 annually.

Summary of Senate Proceedings—5/22/07

Following the vote to invoke cloture yesterday evening, the Senate began formal debate this morning on S. 1348, the comprehensive immigration reform bill.

As he did yesterday, Senator Sessions (R-AL) spent much of the morning delivering remarks detailing his opposition to the bill on the floor. Senator Inhofe (R-OK) then argued for support regarding an amendment he planned to introduce, making English “the national language of the United States.” Senator Inhofe was successful in getting this amendment passed last year during debate on S. 2611, but to his dismay, it was followed by a successful amendment from Senator Salazar (D-CO), who instead proposed making English “the common and unifying language of the United States.” Both amendments, therefore, were included in the final Senate bill last year, and had that bill proceeded further in Congress, these amendments would have been reconciled, or eliminated entirely, during a House/Senate conference.

Next, Senator Martinez (R-FL) defended the compromise bill on the floor, and addressed some of Senator Sessions’ concerns, particularly regarding the provisions involving so-called “chain migration” (family abroad sponsored to come to the U.S. by family members already here). Senator Sessions then continued his criticism of the compromise bill.

Following a brief break, Senator Sessions concluded his comments, and Senator Dorgan (D-ND) introduced the first amendment of the day (#1153), co-sponsored with Senator Boxer (D-CA). This amendment sought to strike the new Y visa program (400,000 annual visas with a market-based escalator of up to 600,000). Senators Dorgan, Boxer and Webb (D-VA) argued that the new worker program amounts to nothing more than an attempt by certain interest groups to lower the wages of American workers through hiring cheaper foreign workers. Senator Sanders (I-VT) offered similar criticism of the program, adding that corporations also are exerting influence behind the scenes, putting their own interests ahead of those of the American worker.

Senator Kyl (R-AZ) rebutted these arguments, stating his belief that the new worker program is essential to American businesses and the economy in general, since all evidence indicates that there simply are not enough American workers willing and available to fill the worker shortages faced by American businesses. He also added that without a new worker program, illegal immigration is likely to continue, since poor immigrants simply will go wherever jobs are available. However, Senator Kyl also reiterated a now familiar refrain cited by President Bush and others about the program, stressing that “temporary means temporary,” and Y visa holders should not be allowed to adjust to legal permanent resident status. Instead, he argued, they should return home after two years, then reapply for another Y visa if they want to work here again. In its current form, the bill allows a Y visa worker to work for two years, leave the U.S. for a year and reapply for another two year visa, then repeat this process once, for a total of 6 years in the program. There is no provision allowing for adjustment to legal permanent resident status. Critics of this provision, including AILA, argue that a new worker program in this form, without the ability to adjust, would create a permanent underclass of laborers in this country, with few legal rights and no prospects for citizenship and successful assimilation.

Senator Kennedy then took the stage, delivering an impassioned plea on the necessity of a new worker program, and arguing that, far from driving down wages and taking American jobs, such a program actually ensures that American wages remain competitive and fair. Without a new worker program, he said, the hiring of cheaper, undocumented workers will persist, their exploitation by unscrupulous employers will continue, and the border will remain a sieve for more undocumented workers to come through. Senator Martinez (R-FL) agreed, arguing that the idea of a new worker program driving down wages and taking jobs away from Americans is simply wrong, and safeguards built into the program, including requiring DOL certification for each job advertised, will ensure that this remains the case. Senators Specter (R-PA) and Graham (R-GA) echoed these sentiments, with Senator Graham adding that instituting a new worker program is a “blessing for this country,” a “win-win” situation, ensuring that exploitation of workers is eliminated and America remains competitive in the global economy.

At 5:45 pm, as scheduled, voting on the Dorgan/Boxer amendment to eliminate the Y visa new worker program began. The amendment was defeated by a vote of 31-64. However, other amendments seeking to curtail the program are likely to follow, beginning with a possible amendment from Senator Bingaman (D-NM) as early as tomorrow morning, cutting the number of Y visas from 400,000 down to 200,000 annually.

In general, AILA believes this “bargain” bill is unacceptable and unworkable in its current form. However, while the process is still very much in flux, we are working closely with our allies to improve the bargain as much as possible during Senate floor debate over the next few weeks. We will keep you posted about amendment information as it becomes available.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 07052240.