U.S. House Group to Offer Immigration Plan Next Month

Photographer: Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call via Bloomberg

U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican from Utah. Close

U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican from Utah.

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Photographer: Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call via Bloomberg

U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican from Utah.

A bipartisan group of U.S. House members will introduce a comprehensive immigration plan next month that covers 95 percent of the issues they have been negotiating, said Texas Republican John Carter.

The lawmakers agreed that Republicans and Democrats will offer separate proposals to establish a visa program for low-skilled foreign workers, said Carter, one of the group’s eight members. He said they will meet later today to try to resolve another issue: how 11 million undocumented immigrants would be covered by President Barack Obama’s health-care law.

“As it stands today, we are going forward with the bill we have been working on with two options” on the unresolved issues, Carter said. “Ninety-five percent of this bill” will be “totally bipartisan,” he told reporters.

Carter said negotiators are trying to reduce government costs for providing health-insurance coverage to the undocumented immigrants.

“We expect to have several viable options presented,” Carter said. “We expect them to pay their health insurance.”

Other parts of the group’s proposed immigration overhaul would be covered by a broader bipartisan bill that Carter said will be filed “at the very latest” in the first week in June.

He spoke a day after another member of the House group, Idaho Republican Raul Labrador, said the talks had reached an impasse. In the Senate, a committee is considering hundreds of amendments to a separate bill crafted in that chamber by a bipartisan group of senators.

Boehner’s Concerns

House Speaker John Boehner told reporters today he was “concerned the bipartisan group has been unable to wrap up their work.” The Ohio Republican said he is convinced the House needs to act on immigration, adding, “how we get there, we’re still dealing with.”

Congress’s last effort to pass comprehensive immigration legislation stalled in 2007. Republicans are trying to reconnect with Hispanics after President Barack Obama won 71 percent of that group’s votes in the November election.

The House negotiators include Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Carter, Labrador and Sam Johnson of Texas, along with Democrats Zoe Lofgren and Xavier Becerra of California, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and John Yarmuth of Kentucky.

Citizenship Path

The House group has been considering a path to citizenship that would take at least 15 years for many undocumented immigrants, a congressional aide familiar with the details said last month on condition of not being identified speaking about the private negotiations.

Undocumented immigrants would have a probationary period of two to five years and would have to wait in line behind those legally seeking to live in the U.S., the aide said.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, said last month that he would proceed with separate bills instead of a comprehensive measure like the Senate is considering.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he plans to bring that chamber’s immigration legislation, S.744, to the floor “as soon as it’s ready,” even if the chamber hasn’t completed work on a farm bill it plans to start considering next week.

“I will do everything in my power to have this bill become law, and I am confident that the time is right,” Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said today.

Senate Judiciary Committee members today rejected several Republican attempts to stiffen a requirement that businesses electronically verify whether prospective employees are eligible to work in the U.S.

Electronic Verification

Among them was a proposal offered by Iowa’s Charles Grassley, the panel’s top Republican, to require employers to start using the electronic verification system within 18 months after the bill became law.

The Senate immigration bill, proposed by a group of four Republican and four Democratic senators, seeks to balance a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. that Democrats want with enough border-security improvements to satisfy Republicans. So far, the measure has survived proposed changes that might doom it on the Senate floor.

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch said he remains hopeful an agreement can be reached with Democrats on changes sought by technology companies to the U.S. visa program for high-skilled foreign workers.

‘Extremely Important’

“Hopefully we can resolve this because it’s extremely important not just to me but to the whole high-tech world,” the Utah Republican said today as the Senate Judiciary Committee started its third day of work on changes to a comprehensive immigration bill.

Hatch is holding closed-door talks with Democrats on changes he proposed to provisions revising the H-1B visa program for high-skilled workers. His support could be crucial in passing a bill on the Senate floor.

“The H1-B issue is so significant,” Hatch said in an interview. “These amendments are there to make the bill better” and help it gain support.

One of Hatch’s amendments would allow individuals who intend to immigrate to the U.S. to be counted as U.S. workers under certain circumstances. Another would require employers to show a U.S. worker wasn’t available only when a foreign employee is initially hired, not with each visa extension.

‘Strongly Supports’

TechAmerica, a Washington-based association representing technology companies, “strongly supports the Hatch amendments” on H-1B visas, Kevin Richards, the group’s senior vice president of federal government affairs, said in an e-mail.

Democratic authors of the immigration measure, including Senator Charles Schumer of New York and Richard Durbin of Illinois, have said the bill’s provisions on high-skilled worker visas are intended to be a middle ground between technology companies, which want more access to foreign workers, and labor organizations, which are concerned about the effects on U.S. workers.

The Senate measure would raise the annual visa limit to 135,000 from 85,000 and allow further expansion to 180,000, depending upon economic conditions.

To contact the reporters on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at rtiron@bloomberg.net; James Rowley in Washington at jarowley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net

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