Kennedy, McCain Introduce Immigration, Guest Worker Bill

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) are unveiling a bill to reform the U.S. immigration system. The plan is said to include a guest-worker program and tougher border enforcement. Supporters say it will help U.S. industries, but opponents say the bill is an amnesty plan for illegal immigrants.

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Also here in Washington, two key senators plan to unveil a bill to overhaul the nation's immigration system. Democrat Edward Kennedy and Republican John McCain say that plan will fulfill the promises made by President Bush last year. The president said he wanted to create a guest worker program and provide tough border enforcement. In order to become law, the measure would have to overcome opponents who say it's just an amnesty for illegal immigrants. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports from Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of digging)

CARRIE KAHN reporting:

Juan Ramone Gonzalez(ph) is digging a hole alongside a landscaping crew in a Los Angeles back yard. The 39-year-old from Guatemala says he's been in the country illegally for four years. He says he's heard rumors about a guest worker program.

Mr. JUAN RAMONE GONZALEZ (Illegal Immigrant): (Foreign language spoken)

KAHN: He says getting a worker visa would be magnificent. He says he could then safely travel back and forth instead of risking his life crossing illegally through the desert and spending thousands of dollars for an immigrant smuggler. Immigrant rights activists say workers like Gonzalez do the dirty, back-breaking jobs US citizens won't. And the advocates lobbied hard for the guest worker bill expected to be introduced today. They aren't alone in pressuring Congress. Leading industry groups are also pushing for the bill because it would grant temporary visas to workers abroad. Hal Daub, CEO of the American Health Care Association, says his industry needs the immigrants because he has far more work than workers. He says that would be true even if every able-bodied American took a health-care job.

Mr. HAL DAUB (American Health Care Association): We still wouldn't have enough people because the number of elderly, disabled and poor coming at the care delivery system alone is just overwhelming. Robots and computers will not change bed sheets and diapers.

KAHN: Senators McCain and Kennedy have said their bill would also beef up enforcement at the nation's borders and in the interior of the country as well. Angela Kelley of the pro-immigrant National Immigration Forum says the bill is a comprehensive fix to what she says is a broken immigration system.

Ms. ANGELA KELLEY (National Immigration Forum): People are coming here to work. This is labor that we need. And as long as worker protections are in place for both US workers and these folks that are coming, it makes a lot more sense that they come through legal channels so that we know who they are so that they can be taxed so that we can require them to learn English and adopt American values.

KAHN: But one provision in the bill is sure to draw criticism. The estimated 10 million illegal immigrants already in the country could also apply for the visas and eventually residency after paying a fine in back taxes. Advocates say without that path to citizenship, there would be no incentive for illegal immigrants to come forward and register with authorities. But groups that want tighter immigration control say that just gives amnesty to law breakers. And Dan Stein of the Federation for American Immigration Reform says it doesn't get to the root of the problem, that employers use illegal immigrants to undercut US workers.

Mr. DAN STEIN (Federation for American Immigration Reform): And it's been going on now for 15 or 20 years. Entire segments of the American labor market have now been ceded to non-US-born, non-native-born workers and have now been taken by people here illegally. The more you allow people to come illegally, the more you allow guest workers to come, the more you will drive out American workers from those fields. You can't have the two labor flows exist within the same labor market. It's a very simple economic fact.

KAHN: Opponents and supporters of the bill both say it faces a tough future, despite its bipartisan sponsors. White House support is also uncertain since the bill differs greatly from the guest worker program President Bush outlined last year. And key House Republicans have already voiced their strong opposition to the legislation.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Los Angeles.

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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