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No Immigration Fix

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Message Jim Cullen

No Immigration Fix


Congress could vote to legalize the estimated 12 million undocumented aliens tomorrow but unless it addresses the economic gap between the US and Mexico it will only start the next chapter in the illegal immigration problem.


Congress won't pass an immigration bill tomorrow, of course, but under a deal a bipartisan group of senators reached with the White House, undocumented workers who were in the US before Jan. 1 would be eligible for a new "Z Visa" that would let them live here indefinitely if they pass a background check and pay a $1,000 fine. Those who want to get on track for citizenship would have to return to their home countries, pay an additional $4,000, show proficiency in English and wait up to eight years for a green card.


The deal-breaker for organized labor is a separate, temporary-worker program that would import 400,000 migrants a year. Each temporary work visa would be good for two years and could be renewed up to three times, as long as the worker leaves the country for a year between renewals.


Those provisions also would come in force only after the federal government implements tough new border controls and a crackdown on employers that hire illegal immigrants.


Employers are not happy that they would have to check a government database to verify that all current and future employees are eligible to work in the US.


The bill increases penalties for hiring an illegal worker to $5,000 a worker for a first offense, from $250, and as much as $75,000 a worker for a third offense. All workers would have to carry identity cards with fingerprints or other biometric data and the Social Security Administration would be expected to start issuing fraud-resistant cards, possibly with a photo or other personal data on the card, raising privacy concerns.


Two powerful service unions -- the Service Employees International Union and UNITE HERE (which represents apparel, retail, hotel and restaurant workers) -- have threatened to pull their support from any bill that would not give temporary workers a way to remain in the country, fearing that a temporary program would drive down wages for low-skill work.


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Jim Cullen is editor of The Progressive Populist, a twice-monthly journal of politics, economics and public affairs published from the Heartland.
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