The Senate Judiciary Committee is poised to consider the immigration issue, starting with a bill introduced by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA). Specter’s bill, referred to as the “Chairman’s mark,” has three major components. 1) Security and enforcement enhancements, including a phased-in requirement for employers to electronically verify the eligibility of prospective employees. 2) A temporary worker program known as H-2C, which would allow foreign guest workers to fill mostly non-agricultural jobs for a 3-year term, renewable once. 3) Acknowledgement of the undocumented workforce by allowing most undocumented workers a chance to obtain a non-immigrant visa to stay and continue working indefinitely, subject to conditions. Judiciary Committee work on the bill was scheduled to start March 2 and take several weeks.
“Agriculture is not covered in the Chairman’s mark, reflecting the fact that agricultural proposals such as the AgJOBS bill sponsored by Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) have seen Senate debate and a majority vote in the recent past,” said Craig Regelbrugge, ANLA’s senior director of government relations and co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform. “Many in the Senate recognize the importance of addressing agriculture’s needs, whether it happens in the committee process or when a bill is debated on the Senate floor,” Regelbrugge added. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) intends for an immigration bill to be considered by the Senate in late March.
According to ANLA’s director of legislative relations, John Farner, employers should not get too bogged down in the details of the Chairman’s mark. “Senator Specter is a friend of business and agriculture and wants to move a comprehensive bill through his committee. Yet he recognizes that the Chairman’s mark is not a finished product, but the beginning of a tough debate,” said Farner.
Meanwhile, ANLA and other organizations are mobilizing a March 15, 2006, march on Washington for employers to urge the Senate to pass comprehensive immigration reform that meets both the security and economic needs of America. Green industry delegations from at least a dozen states are expected to take part in the event, said ANLA.
“The enforcement bill the House passed in December will kill America’s economy and will kill businesses in the green industry and beyond,” added Farner. Our message to the Senate will be to pass a bill that can actually secure America without sending American jobs and industries into bankruptcy, or off shore.”