April 5 (Bloomberg) -- A group of U.S. House members will propose steps to legal status for undocumented immigrants, who shouldn’t be living here permanently without a chance to become “real Americans,” said Representative Mario Diaz-Balart.
Bringing many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. “out of the shadows” and improving the immigration system would be “great” for businesses, Diaz-Balart said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s Peter Cook for “Capitol Gains” airing April 7. The Florida Republican is a member of a bipartisan House group negotiating a plan.
“Imagine if you legalize folks who are already here,” said Diaz-Balart. “You bring them out of the shadows,” he said, “so that they can become an integral part of the economy.”
“For business, this is a win-win,” he said.
Diaz-Balart said the House group won’t allow “amnesty” for those who are unlawfully in the U.S. “There will be no amnesty in this bill,” he said.
“It’s not good public policy to have a group of people who are in the United States permanently” that could “never aspire to become real Americans,” he said. “The flip side of that, however, is you want to make sure that folks who broke the law do not have rights” that others who have done things legally don’t have.
The House group has been holding closed-door talks on an immigration-law rewrite for about four years and has “95 percent” of the bill drafted, said Diaz-Balart. A bipartisan group of senators plans to introduce their bill next week.
The Republican-led House is taking a slower approach to changing immigration law than the Democratic-led Senate. The House probably won’t take up a measure until June.
“We’re not in a rush,” Diaz-Balart said. “We don’t have deadlines that we have imposed on ourselves, other than the fact that we want to fix what’s broken.”
“Most of the really thorny issues we’ve been able to hammer out and reach agreement on,” he said. “We’re more concerned about getting it right than doing it quickly.”
The Senate immigration effort is centered on creating a 13-year path to U.S. citizenship for undocumented immigrants. House Republicans may be more open to allowing legal residency rather than citizenship.
Republican opposition to providing a citizenship path, a stumbling block in past efforts, has lessened since the November election, when President Barack Obama won 71 percent of Hispanic votes cast. Republican leaders have said the party needs to do more to court the fast-growing voter bloc.
Republicans need to resolve the immigration issue because it’s been a “good, successful tool” for Democrats and “political suicide for the Republicans,” Diaz-Balart said.
“Until we can get immigration off the table, we can’t even approach that community,” he said, referring to Hispanic voters. “It’s essential. Until that time, we’re in deep trouble.”
Diaz-Balart said a March 29 agreement between business and labor leaders on allocating visas to low-skilled foreign workers may not be part of an immigration plan.
“I don’t think those deals are necessarily going to be the final” part of any legislation, he said, adding that such accords are “guidelines.”
Under an agreement negotiated by business and labor to be included in the Senate plan, the new low-skilled worker program would start with 20,000 visas in the first year, 35,000 in the second, 55,000 in the third and 75,000 in the fourth. In year five, the number would increase or shrink based on a formula taking into account the unemployment rate, the number of job openings and other factors.The number would never exceed more than 200,000 a year.
The guest-worker program being negotiated in the Senate is a “more pro-labor, Democratic-controlled solution that is never going to pass muster in the House of Representatives,” said Idaho Representative Raul Labrador, one of the Republican negotiators on an immigration-law rewrite.
“The labor unions are asking for a guest-worker program I don’t think is workable” because the deal taking shape in the Senate would impose numerical caps that are too restrictive for people with particular job skills, he said in a telephone interview.
A guest-worker program must be more flexible to meet labor-market needs, he said. “If we don’t have a guest-worker program that works,” only a handful of Republicans are “going to vote for immigration reform,” he said.
The House group is seeking agreement on future visas and mobility for farmworkers who harvest the bulk of U.S. fruits and vegetables, according to two congressional aides who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
Also, the group is looking for backing from members of the Judiciary and Homeland Security Committees, the two panels that would consider a rewrite of immigration law.
House leaders are hosting “listening sessions” in the office of House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican. Two sessions have been held so far with three more scheduled.
The last time the U.S. Congress considered a broad revision to immigration laws was in 2007, when more than half of today’s House Republicans weren’t in office. That lack of experience explains why House leaders are taking a slower approach than Senate lawmakers on the issue.
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