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Public Statements

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act Of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to speak in favor of the Bingaman-Obama Y-1 guest worker amendment.

The Bingaman-Obama amendment removes the requirement that Y-1 visa holders under the new guest worker program leave the United States for at least 1 year before renewing their visas. Designing a worker program where people are supposed to come to the U.S. for 2 years, leave for a year, return for 2 years, leave for a year, and then return for 2 years is a recipe for creating a new undocumented population.

Our amendment does not modify the overall number of permissible work years, which would still be limited to a total of 6 years, and it doesn't change the term of the visa, which would still be 2 years. In order to renew their visa, applicants would still have to demonstrate that they are eligible to meet the requirements of the program. The amendment maintains the general structure of the program, but revises it in a manner that makes the program more workable.

We need to pass this amendment because the process in the underlying bill
is costly and burdensome on employers, especially small businesses. Requiring employers to rehire and retrain workers every 2 years imposes unnecessary costs and creates instability in the workforce.

The underlying language is also harmful to American workers. The 1-year absence requirement would ensure that guest workers are always at the lowest end of the pay scale, which would depress overall wages. And the system as now designed provides an additional incentive for guest workers to overstay the term of their visas. Rather than returning to their home countries after their 2-year visas expire, many workers will just remain in the United States and become undocumented immigrants.

In short, the temporary worker design in the bill is unworkable and difficult to enforce. It is unlikely that the government will be able to sufficiently track the entry and exit of these workers to ensure that they comply with the 1-year absence requirement. By removing the 1-year requirement to leave the country between renewals we would at least be making the program workable.

Our amendment has the support of a variety of labor, business, immigration, and religious groups. Specifically, the Service Employees Union International, SEIU, the National Association of Homebuilders, NAHB, the Associated Builders and Contractors, ABC, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, AILA, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the National Immigration Forum, NIF, have voiced their strong support of this amendment.

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