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Immigration Reform Guest Worker Provision Hits Another Roadblock

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IMMIGRATION REFORM GUESTWORKER
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are discussing immigration reform in the Senate gang of eight. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) | AP

WASHINGTON -- Immigration talks in the Senate snagged Friday when Republican members of the "gang of eight" rejected another compromise on the future flow of foreign workers, according to the AFL-CIO labor federation.

Senators said they had hoped to agree on reform by the end of the week, before a two-week recess takes them out of Washington. Other issues, even contentious ones such as border security and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, have mostly been resolved. But squabbling over worker visas continues.

The latest problem is how to decide the future flow of workers that won't disrupt wages of American workers. Talks between the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over guest worker provisions have stalled over the issue. After Republicans senators in the gang of eight -- Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) -- rejected other proposals, AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Hauser said Democrats offered a compromise: adopting language from an existing law for another type of visa, the H2-B. "Visas will be issued only when the employment of foreign workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly situated workers in the United States," that law reads.

The aim is to avoid driving down wages for American workers by maintaining the existing H2-B mechanism that sets wages for new workers.

Republicans turned down that proposal, Hauser said, surprising Democrats, who believed other elements of the future flow agreement had addressed GOP concerns.

"This is not just looking a gift horse in the mouth, but like looking at every tooth," Hauser said.

AFL-CIO campaign manager Tom Snyder told TPM earlier Friday that "the only thing that’s remaining here is that the business community wants to set wage rates for the new visa holders that are below the federal poverty line."

The offices of the senators declined to discuss the negotiations. The Chamber of Commerce did not respond to a request for comment.

The chamber and the AFL-CIO agreed earlier this year that businesses would be able to hire low-skilled immigrant workers if it was determined that no American workers were willing or available. They proposed a separate organization that would determine the needs of business, so flows of guest workers were flexible to the needs of the market. The gang of eight framework also called for guest workers to be allowed into the country to fill jobs Americans did not fill.

Earlier in the day, McCain told Politico he would not consider hypotheticals of whether a business-labor disagreement could derail the process.

"We have bumps every five minutes, but I am still, as I’ve always said, guardedly optimistic," McCain said.

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