KAI RYSSDAL: The Senate’s working on immigration reform this week. Bipartisan immigration reform, that is. A bill did pass last year but most Republicans didn’t like it much. The package currently in the works puts border security first. Then a high-tech ID system for undocumented workers would kick win. Only after that might millions of illegal immigrants get a chance at legal status.
Once Congress went to the Democrats, speculation was it’d be easier for a deal to get done. But commentator Jeff Birnbaum says opposition to a key vote on Wednesday might come from a surprising source.
JEFF BIRNBAUM: The conventional wisdom is that, after years of frustration on the issue, President Bush could well get a new immigration law.
But for that, Bush will have to partner with a broad swath of the Democrats-in-charge on Capitol Hill.
The reason: Most of his fellow Republicans are none too keen about giving foreign workers the chance to become citizens just because they’ve lived here for a while. And that provision would be the heart of any comprehensive solution.
It turns out, though, that Democrats aren’t all that eager to embrace the change. In fact, a large number of Democrats are likely to resist.
And here’s why. Labor unions, a fundamental constituency of the Democratic Party, are deeply divided on the topic.
Luckily for Bush, two of the nation’s largest and most influential unions — the Service Employees International Union and Unite Here, the hotel and sewing workers’ union — are eager to include a program that would allow foreigners to work temporarily in this country.
They envision eventual citizenship, too — a plan similar to one that Bush has advanced in the past. These unions, which tend to represent lower-paid workers, foresee a lot of future members in that expanding labor pool.
But almost every other union, including the big union federation, the AFL -CIO, does not like that proposal at all.
In fact, they oppose a so-called guest-worker program, worrying that the additional foreign workers would take away Americans’ jobs, including those their members now hold.
They intend to fight such a program with all the strength they have. That leaves Democratic lawmakers with a difficult choice. Some will go with Bush, but others will go with the majority of unions.
And that could well prevent the president from winning on immigration this year.
RYSSDAL: Jeff Birnbaum is a columnist for The Washington Post.
As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.
Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.
Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.