WASHINGTON -- As unions and the business lobby meet in talks over immigration reform, the head of the AFL-CIO union federation stressed Thursday that organized labor wants to see a "data-driven solution" in whatever foreign guestworker program Congress produces as part of its comprehensive immigration package.
Each year, tens of thousands of foreign workers come to the U.S. to work on temporary visas, many of them in low-wage industries. Leaders on Capitol Hill have indicated they want to overhaul the current guest worker programs, which businesses complain are too cumbersome and unions complain are rife with employer and recruiter abuse.
Disagreements over these guest worker programs -- sometimes referred to as the "future flow" of immigrant workers -- arguably played a role in derailing the 2007 immigration talks. Now, the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce have come to the table to hash out their differences.
The business community does not want to see heavy restrictions placed on the number of guest worker visas available to employers, but unions would like to see the availability of visas determined by labor market conditions in particular industries and locations. Without such restrictions, they argue, employers will avail themselves of an unlimited pool of cheap labor, suppressing wages for Americans.
"We're proposing a data-driven solution to address the future flow of workers coming into the U.S. on employer-based visas," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said on a Thursday call with reporters. "We've constructed a solution that responds to legitimate employer needs while protecting workers."
He said he didn't buy arguments that such a system wouldn't be flexible enough to respond quickly to changes in employers' needs.
"A data-driven system would take care of those things," he said. "The system would plan ahead and be able to predict where shortages were and where. The system is fair, it's flexible, and it meets the needs of employers."
An official for the Chamber, which didn't respond to a query from HuffPost regarding the guest worker discussions, indicated recently that the group does not want to see any kind of restrictions put on visas.
Trumka said organized labor's discussions with the Chamber would continue Thursday and Friday. He described the negotiations as "going well." He wouldn't say whether the AFL-CIO would ultimately oppose an immigration package that included a more traditional guest worker program without data-determined caps on visas.
AFL-CIO officials stressed that the group's top priority was a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers who are already in the country. Giving them citizenship would help curb workplace abuses and raise wages for all workers, they said.
"There are many many people in this country who want to work in good jobs," said Maria Elena Durazo, secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. "We can't have this cheap labor pool of 11 million people."
As part of its immigration campaign, the AFL-CIO will be hosting demonstrations this month in Nevada, Georgia, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, Florida and Texas.
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"Gang Of Eight"
A <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/28/immigration-reform-framework_n_2566494.html?1359387491">bipartisan group of senators</a> have come together to address the issue of immigration reform. The group consists of four members of each party -- Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado, plus Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, John McCain of Arizona and Jeff Flake of Arizona. Their framework was announced Monday.
Pathway To Citizenship
A <a href="http://www.docstoc.com/docs/142894316/Bipartisan-immigration-plan">"tough but fair" </a> road to citizenship is the main tenet of the bipartisan immigrant plan. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is the most significant supporter of this idea, giving hope to those who doubt Republicans will support the plan.
The New Process
The new process of obtaining citizenship would be just that -- a process. Probationary citizens would be required to pass an additional background check, learn English, pay taxes and show that they have a history of employment to apply for permanent residence and a green card. Undocumented immigrants will receive green cards after all probationary citizens have been processed, ensuring that documented immigrants are addressed first. Separate processes would be designed for young undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children and agricultural workers.
Enforcement, Then Green Cards
The first goal, before any green cards are handed out, is to "demonstrate our commitment to securing our borders and combating visa overstays," the senators say in their framework.
Enhance Border Security And Drones
Emphasizing enforcement measures, the framework calls for increased boarder control, including more border agents and aerial surveillance and drones. A new system would be added to ensure visa stays are being adhered to, along with a commission of border lawmakers to aid legislation.
Increase Employment Verification
The senators have proposed to create an "effective employment verification system" that would help prevent identity theft while allowing employers to feel secure in hiring documented immigrants.
No Benefits For Probationary Immigrants
Immigrants who are in the probationary category would not be eligible for federal benefits in the senators' framework. This addresses the concern that public benefits, particularly health-related ones, are being spent on undocumented immigrants.
An Easier Path For 'The Best And Brightest'
The framework recognizes that a different sort of process would be needed for "the best and brightest," including highly-skilled workers and those with higher education. This has been previously addressed in the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/28/stem-act-white-house-immigration_n_2207279.html">STEM Act </a> which was ultimately vetoed by the White House.