Labor, business agree to principles on immigration

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 21, 2013 at 4:06 pm •  Published: February 21, 2013
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Business and labor groups announced agreement Thursday on the principles of a new system to bring lower-skilled workers to the U.S, a key priority for a comprehensive immigration bill.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO reached consensus after weeks of closed-doors negotiations they were conducting at the request of Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., two of the senators involved in crafting an immigration deal on Capitol Hill. Ensuring that future workers can come to the U.S. legally is expected to be a central element of the deal, which will also address border security, employer verification and a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.

The principles announced Thursday include agreement on the need for a way to let businesses more easily hire foreign workers when Americans aren't available to fill jobs. This will require a new kind of worker visa program that does not keep all workers in a permanent temporary status and responds as the U.S. economy grows and shrinks, the groups said in a joint news release.

They also said they see the need for a new professional bureau housed within a federal executive agency and tasked with informing Congress and the public about labor market needs and shortages. That addresses a key demand from the labor side for a more transparent and data-driven process about business' needs for workers.

"We have found common ground in several important areas and have committed to continue to work together and with member of Congress to enact legislation that will solve our current problems in a lasting manner," the statement from the Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO said. "We are now in the middle — not the end — of this process."

Even so, Thursday's agreement represents a significant step in talks that some on Capitol Hill gave little chance of success.

"This is yet another sign of progress, of bipartisanship, and we are encouraged by it," White House press secretary Jay Carney said. Schumer called the announcement "a major step forward."

President Barack Obama has been criticized as caving in to organized labor for failing to include a temporary worker program in his own immigration blueprint. Carney would not say whether the White House supports a visa program for low-skill workers.

In a sign of the growing support for action on immigration, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., one of a number of Republicans who've recently softened their opposition to eventual citizenship for some illegal immigrants, issued a statement saying he was encouraged "that two groups often on opposite sides of the aisle are serious about putting politics aside and finding solutions."