Rules panel likely to reject guest-worker legislation

The House Rules Committee will find itself in a politically awkward position when it is expected to reject legislation that parallels a centerpiece of President’s Bush immigration reform plan.

The House Rules Committee will find itself in a politically awkward position when it is expected to reject legislation that parallels a centerpiece of President’s Bush immigration reform plan.

Immigration has deeply divided the GOP base, with some conservative Republicans charging that the president’s call to expand guest-worker programs rewards illegal aliens.

Bush’s proposed guest-worker program, championed by business lobbyists on K Street, would allow illegal immigrants to stay in the country temporarily to fill jobs that supporters say are unwanted by Americans.

Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), who reluctantly voted in favor of the immigration bill in the House Judiciary Committee last week, is planning to introduce an amendment with Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) to address the guest-worker issue.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner’s (R-Wis.) immigration-reform bill, which cleared his panel last week, did not include any measures to address temporary workers and illegal immigrants.

“We need a full and open debate. No bill should pass without including temporary workers and the 11 million illegal immigrants that are already in the country,” Kolbe said in a statement. “We must debate immigration reform in a comprehensive manner. This half-baked approach will not suffice, and the American people deserve more. House and Senate leadership and the president have all said they support comprehensive reform.”

Many on Capitol Hill do not think the Kolbe-Berman measure will clear the Rules Committee, which is convening today and deciding on which amendments to accept for a floor vote.

“I do not know that [the Kolbe-Berman amendment] is going to get through the Rules Committee,” said Will Adams, spokesman for Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), a conservative who has been pushing to reinforce border security.

Tancredo has been critical of the administration’s approach on immigration reform.

“The White House has lost a lot of credibility on this issue, and they are not running the show here,” Adams added.

The administration is not expected to put pressure on the House for the guest-worker program this time around, Adams said. Instead, he added, it will wait for the conference report with the Senate.

The Senate version of the immigration bill is more comprehensive and more in line with the White House’s position than the House bill.

Tancredo sent a letter to the House leadership last week outlining 30 provisions intended to strengthen the immigration bill. Among them are building a border fence, making an employee-verification system mandatory and ending birthright citizenship for children born in the United States to illegal immigrants.

Meanwhile, the business groups are putting together their strategy on how to deal with Sensenbrenner’s bill, which it has major concerns about.

The No.1 issue of concern is the provision in the immigration bill that would require all employers in the country to participate in a system under which the government can check whether an employee or an applicant is in the country legally.

Business is waiting to see whether amendments to the bill are allowed and, if they are, which amendments it could corral votes for. In any case, the business community is considering key voting either on the entire bill or on specific amendments, several lobbyists indicated.

Until the amendments are decided upon, the business community is reaching out to the House leadership to make its concerns heard, said the National Restaurant Association’s John Gay, who co-chairs the Chamber of Commerce’s Essential Worker Immigration Coalition.

“I doubt that they would do a wide-open rule,” said Bruce Josten, the Chamber’s executive vice president for government affairs.

Another business lobbyist said he doubts the Kolbe-Berman amendment will clear the Rules Committee.

The verification system is now a pilot program that has been limited to about 3,600 employers and their new hires.

The business community is worried that the employee-verification program could be expanded from a pilot program to encompass all employers in the United States. The provision also requires employers to check their existing employees versus only new applicants. Under the Sensenbrenner bill, the program would encompass 145 million workers, according to industry officials.

“The main issues of contention are not the concept of an electronic computer verification system,” said Randy Johnson, the Chamber’s vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits. “The businesspeople recognize that that is a sound concept, but we are concerned how it is applied in the bill. It is implemented too quickly.” The provision also enforces “massive increases in civil penalties,” Johnson added.

“There have been many practical compliance problems under the [pilot] program,” Josten wrote in a letter to the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. “While improvements have been made, the extension of this program to a much broader universe creates serious questions as to its practicality in the real world.”