Labor, business agree on immigration reform

By Brian Bennett

Tribune Washington Bureau

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21 2013 8:46 p.m. MST

WASHINGTON (MCT) — Key business and labor leaders have hammered out the broad outline of a compromise on one of the hardest issues in reforming the nation's immigration system — how to handle future needs for foreign workers in the U.S.

Although both sides say key details remain to be negotiated, the deal clears away a significant roadblock to further action in Congress.

"For the first time, labor and business have agreed publicly to commit to immigration reform," said Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, one of the labor groups involved along with the AFL-CIO in the negotiations with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The bipartisan group of eight senators that has been crafting an immigration bill plans to meet next week to discuss the issue and has been waiting to see the results of the talks between the business and labor groups.

Failure to agree on how to handle future flows of foreign workers into the U.S. was a key factor in scuttling the last effort to reform the nation's immigration laws, under President George W. Bush in 2007. And critics of the previous big immigration law, the amnesty passed under Ronald Reagan in 1986, say that one of that law's greatest failings was that it did not deal adequately with future needs, leading to a huge inflow of illegal immigrants in the 1990s and early 2000s.

To prevent that from happening again, the agreement worked out by the union and business representatives would create a legal system to allow a certain number of foreign workers enter the country legally each year. Companies that cannot find U.S. workers would be allowed to hire those workers if they first advertised jobs to American workers.

The agreement calls for creating a federal expert bureau that would make recommendations on the number of foreign workers allowed into the country each year based on unemployment data for and other information.

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