Key lawmakers involved in ongoing bipartisan discussions on a comprehensive immigration reform bill signaled optimism on the Sunday morning talk show circuit, with Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) — two members of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” negotiators working on the reform bill — telling NBC’s Meet The Press that a bill could be introduced as soon as next week in light of a tentative deal on guest worker programs struck by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO.
“With the agreement between business and labor, every major policy issue has been resolved on the Gang of Eight,” said Schumer. Flake was a little more cautious, stressing that senators still have “a ways to go in terms of looking at the language and making sure that it’s everything we thought it would be,” but that they were “closer, certainly.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) echoed those sentiments on a separate appearance on CNN, stating that business, labor groups, and the senators themselves have reached a “conceptual” agreement that still needs some details to be filled, but that a bipartisan deal “will be rolled out next week.”
Disagreements over the guest worker program were one of the last remaining sticking points in negotiations between business and labor groups. Under the tentative deal struck Friday, the U.S. would issue anywhere from 20,000 to 200,000 guest worker visas annually, with the number of visas issued in any given year “to grow and shrink according to economic needs.” According to the New York Times, the number of guest workers allowed in to the country would “increase as the nation’s unemployment rate fell and the number of job openings increased,” and a federal commission would be established to “assess the need for guest workers, with an eye to shortages in specific industries and communities.”
Labor and business groups also reached a tentative agreement on wage levels for guest workers, with negotiators agreeing that “guest workers would be paid the prevailing industry wage previously used in the guest worker program.”
Resolving the guest worker issue provides a much-needed boost to Senate efforts, as bipartisan negotiators had already reached agreements over other challenging aspects of a comprehensive immigration reform bill, including border security and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But despite the senators’ optimism, the politically-charged nature of many of the bill’s provisions could present snags as actual legislation works its way through the committee process. On Saturday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) — another Gang of Eight member — urged caution against moving too fast to pass legislation, taking exception to Senate Democrats’ push to get a bill onto the full Senate floor as fast as possible. In a letter sent to Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Rubio suggested that he would slow down upcoming immigration legislation by calling for committee hearings on the issue.