As Senate Debates Immigration Bill, Associations Weigh In

Associations from all sides of the business world have chimed in on the landmark immigration bill currently up for debate in the full Senate.

Momentum has been building for immigration reform in recent months. And thanks to the input of a number of associations and lobbying groups, the chances of Congress passing a comprehensive reform bill seem better at this point than they have been in years.

Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744) , and on Tuesday, the bill passed a cloture vote in the full Senate, allowing it to be taken up for debate. More details on the potentially landmark immigration bill:

The current status: Over the past several months, the Senate’s “the Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of high-profile lawmakers that includes Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Charles Schumer (D-NY), has been working to craft an immigration bill. Their proposal passed its first test in the full Senate in Tuesday’s cloture vote, with the chamber broadly voting to begin debate, 82-15. The bill’s provisions are still fluid, with senators now set to offer amendments on contentious-related issues such as border security and healthcare. Many of the Senate Republicans who supported taking up the cloture vote have not come out in favor of the full bill, The Huffington Post notes. At least one member of the “Gang of Eight” appears willing to compromise. “This bill is not perfect and can always be improved,” Schumer said in comments after the cloture vote.

I feel small business concerns were not taken into account when they were working on this bill. It’s not workable or affordable for small businesses at the moment.

Obama stands with business leaders: At a press conference on Tuesday, President Barack Obama stood with two of the key industry figures behind the bill, U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue and AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka, directly behind him. The joint appearance by Donohue and Trumka was not a coincidence: The leaders of the two groups, which often find themselves at odds on major issues, began working together on immigration earlier this year.

Small business group opposes: While not opposed to the idea of immigration reform, the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), in a letter acquired by DC newspaper The Hill, spoke out against the legislation in its current form, arguing that the E-Verify system (designed to tell prospective employers whether job applicants have legal status) and regulatory limits for low-skilled workers would unfairly favor larger businesses and place “significant new costs, bureaucracy, and regulations on small employers.” In an interview, Ashley Fingarson, NFIB’s manager of Senate legislative affairs, told the publication: “I feel small business concerns were not taken into account when they were working on this bill. It’s not workable or affordable for small businesses at the moment.” Her group could be influential as debate begins; NFIB’s legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act were closely watched by the Republican Party.

An essay in support: Beyond standing with Obama on Tuesday, the chamber’s Donohue wrote an essay published last week by the McClatchy-Tribune News Service voicing support for the legislation. “Immigrants already represent one in four doctors, two in five biomedical scientists, and one in three computer software engineers. More than half of the master’s and doctoral students in high-tech disciplines at top U.S. universities are foreign,” he wrote. “We need to make sure that they have the opportunity to stay in the United States and contribute their skills and innovations to our economy. Otherwise, we’re sending them home to compete against us.”

Any immigration bill will have a long way to go before becoming law. The path to passage by the Republican-controlled House is far less clear due to the more conservative makeup of the chamber. However, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) made comments on Tuesday suggesting that immigration legislation could be signed into law “by the end of the year.”

(photo by cliff1066/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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