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Kennedy's Bipartisan Plan for Comprehensive Immigration Reform Wins Passage in Senate Judiciary Committee

Location: Washington, DC



Today, with a vote of 12- 6, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes the main provisions of the McCain-Kennedy immigration reform bill: a guest worker program for foreign workers that provides an opportunity for earned legalization and a program for the 12 million undocumented workers in the United States that would allow for earned legalization. Kennedy believes that providing a path to citizenship is the only way to break the cycle of illegality. The measure is now set to move to the floor, in compliance with the deadline set by the Majority Leader.

"The country has spoken, and today the Senate listened," Kennedy said in reference to the million people across the country who have rallied in support of such a plan. "No issue goes to the heart of who we are as Americans more than immigration. This measure will strengthen our national security by protecting our borders more effectively. It reflects our values as a nation of immigrants deciding who can earn the privilege of American citizenship. And it's about our progress as immigrants contribute to our economic growth. I am proud of my colleagues for coming together in a bipartisan way to address this great challenge."

Kennedy's guest worker measure creates a new temporary visa to allow foreign workers to enter the US. The visa is valid for 3 years, and can be renewed one time for a total of 6 years. It contains strong labor protections for all workers, visas for family members, a path to permanent residence and citizenship and a flexible market-based cap, beginning at 400,000.

Under the McCain-Kennedy plan for the 12 million undocumented workers already in the United States, they can apply for temporary status for six years, must demonstrate past work history, pay a 2 thousand dollar fine, undergo rigorous background and security checks, learn English and American civics, make good on back taxes, and satisfy additional criteria. Then if they wait until everyone already waiting their turn is processed through system they can apply for a green card. It is not amnesty, as opponents of the measure contend, rather it would give immigrants an incentive to come forward and an opportunity to earn legal status.

The McCain-Kennedy bill, which was introduced last May, is the only bipartisan reform measure and has earned broad and diverse support because of its common sense plan to strengthen border protection and enforcement while reflecting our best values as a nation -- of fairness, equal opportunity, and respect for the law. It has the strong backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce along with other business groups, labor unions such as SEIU, religious leaders and Hispanic advocacy groups. The bill's co-sponsors include Senators Graham, Brownback, Lieberman, Salazar, Obama and Martinez.

Below are summaries of the guest worker provisions:


Many sectors of our economy today rely on the hard work and contributions of immigrants. Their work is indispensable to the continued growth of the American economy. The nation's dependence on immigrants will be even greater in coming years.

The data clearly shows that immigrant workers are vital to our economy. Our current immigration laws are out of touch with current economic realities and have no way to meet future economic trends. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, more than 400,000 illegal immigrants arrive each year to work -- and we need them to keep our economy growing. But current immigration law provides visas for only 5,000 lower-skilled workers.

There is virtually no legal way for a foreign worker to enter the country and take a full-time, year-round job. With so few legal channels for foreign workers, the current system essentially guarantees an illegal flow. Businesses can't find the workers they need. Entire industries operate on the wrong side of the law. Millions of foreign workers live in the country illegally. The immigration system doesn't work for anyone.

We can meet our labor needs by enabling employers to obtain a legal, reliable, secure supply of workers, making it unnecessary for businesses to resort to illegal workers. At the same time, by establishing an equitable temporary worker program with strong labor protections, fair wages, and portability, we will provide temporary workers with the same rights and protections as American workers. This formula will improve the working conditions for all workers.

Temporary workers will be able to bargain for wages and benefits just as U.S. workers do. If they don't like their jobs or the way they are treated, they will be permitted to change jobs. They will have the same right that American workers have to join or organize a union. Employers hiring temporary workers will be required to comply with all federal, state and local labor laws.

Senator Specter has created a generous temporary worker program that that has good labor protections. It will provide visas for foreign workers to come legally and safely to the U.S. to fill jobs when Americans workers are not available.

The amendment builds on that foundation, making a few but important modifications. First, I strike the requirement that H2C workers spend at least 1 year outside the U.S. before they are eligible to obtain an extension of their 3 year visa. This requirement is not beneficial to business or workers. Employers want to retain experienced and trained workers. Workers who have played by the rules should be allowed to extend their status. We grant this benefit to high-skilled workers. Lower skilled workers should be treated the same.

It also give temporary workers who have lost their jobs a little more time to find a new employer. The Specter bill only gives a worker 45 days. Kennedy's amendment extends it to 60 days. Sixty days is still significantly little time. The average length of unemployment for a lower-skilled U.S. worker is 16 weeks.

The amendment also strikes provisions in the Specter bill that curtail access to administrative and judicial review. We should not give unfettered discretion to an agency which is prone to make mistakes.

Senator Specter's Mark requires employers to pay a prevailing wage. Kennedy's amendment strengthens this requirement by precluding the use of unreliable private independent wage surveys. In order to make sure that these workers are paid fair wages and they don't undercut the wages of U.S. workers, I require the payment of a prevailing wage rate under the Service Contract Act if it is a job is covered under that Act.

In order to ensure that H2C workers are covered by all federal and state employment and labor laws, I modify Senator Specter's definition of employer to also cover employees. Moreover I specify that that these terms have the same meaning as under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Senator Specter's Mark establishes an administrative complaint process whereby the Secretary of Labor may review claims by aggrieved parties, including U.S. workers, and award back pay and benefits to workers and impose penalties and fines on employers who violate the terms of the program. Kennedy strengthens this process by making sure that workers can bring complaints for violations of the worker recruitment requirements, attestation process and prevailing wage requirements.

The last two changes are the most important. The Specter temporary worker program fails to include a cap on the number of H2C visas that may be issued in a given year. My amendment would impose a flexible market-based cap, which would start at 400,000 per year. That number would gradually increase or decrease based on demand.

Finally, the amendment provides temporary workers with an opportunity to become permanent residents, should they chose to do so. An employer could petition for the temporary worker at any time. In the alternative, a worker who has worked for at least 4 years as a temporary worker could self-petition to obtain permanent residence, provided he is admissible under our immigration laws.

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