Immigration Plan Limits Guest Worker Program Senators have voted to put a five-year limit on a proposed guest worker program. That change could prevent passage of the larger, immigration reform package.
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Immigration Plan Limits Guest Worker Program

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Immigration Plan Limits Guest Worker Program

Immigration Plan Limits Guest Worker Program

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

I'm Alex Cohen.

Controversial immigration legislation continues to stymie the Senate. A test vote on the bipartisan measure failed today and hopes are fading that a final vote on it will come anytime soon. The legislation also took a big hit late last night when the Senate voted to place a time limit on a proposed guest-worker program. I spoke earlier with NPR's Jennifer Ludden about why this bill has been so contentious.

JENNIFER LUDDEN: The lawmakers who crafted it called it the Grand Bargain. And essentially it's a generous legalization for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants here in the U.S. now, in exchange for limits on who can immigrate to the U.S. in the future, and what we've seen on numerous amendments challenging each side of that equation.

One in particular yesterday would have dramatically limited who among the 12 million illegal immigrants could have gained legal status. It would have ruled out anyone who's ever use a false document - that's a large portion there - that was defeated. We've also seen efforts to broaden who can come in the future, especially some of the family members of those here now; that's been restricted. That was defeated. So you have all sides unhappy to some degree, which of course is the nature of a compromise.

COHEN: Indeed. And many folks were unhappy about what happened last night with the guest worker program. There was this very close vote that would put a limit of five years on the plan to provide U.S. employers with 200,000 temporary foreign workers. What impact does is that going to have on this legislation?

LUDDEN: It could be huge. It really in the long run, it could derail the whole thing. What you had was Senator Byron Dorgan. He's a Democrat from North Dakota, bringing this amendment to end the program after five years, to sunset it and reevaluate as he said, because he really questioned the workability. First of all, you've got the program where people would come for two years to work here, go home for a year, come back for two years, go home again. A lot of people wonder if that's going to work.

Senator Dorgan said it's going to create this subclass of vulnerable workers, who don't have the same rights as Americans, and that would drag down wages and take jobs from Americans. He also questioned whether some of those temporary workers would overstay their visas and remain illegally.

Now, supporters of the guest worker program say, well, that's actually more likely to happen if there is no program. They say that this is based on economic demand and projections of labor shortages in low-wage jobs. And they actually originally wanted for the 400,000-600,000 guest workers per year. They also point back to 1986. We had an amnesty that year and they say one of the big reasons it failed was because that bill did not take into account future economic demand. So people had to come illegally.

COHEN: So Jennifer, how are business interests reacting to what happened?

LUDDEN: They're very dismayed. But I spoke with one lobbyist who kind of with a deep sigh says I can't believe I'm saying this, but we're telling our members we've decided to push ahead and say, well, let's just get this bill through Senate, if we can, and hope to restore the guest worker program when it gets to the House.

COHEN: If the bill makes it to the House, what do you think its prospects would be there?

LUDDEN: Very hard to say, could have an even tougher time than we've seen in the Senate. You've got a number of so-called blue-dog Democrats recently elected to Congress. They - many of them campaigned against so-called amnesty. We don't know how they're going to come down on this. There will though be a lot of pressure from the Bush administration. I mean, this has been a key issue for President Bush since he assumed office.

Officials in his administration have helped draft this immigration bill. They've been pushing its passage, making the argument that however tortured and complex and difficult this bill would be to carry out, the only thing worse is really to do nothing, to allow 12 million illegal immigrants to continue to be a de facto subclass in our society while business continues to employ them on the one hand, and the immigration agency tries to deport them on the other.

COHEN: NPR's Jennifer Ludden. Thanks so much.

LUDDEN: Thank you.

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