POLITICS: White House

AFL-CIO, Chamber reach accord on immigration reform

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Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Politics Digest

The AFL-CIO and U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced Thursday that they've struck an agreement on the need for a guest worker program, a development touted by the White House as "another sign of progress" for comprehensive immigration reform.

But the agreement between the ideological rivals is silent on the most contentious issue in the debate, whether to provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million people already living in the U.S. illegally.

And despite the newfound bipartisan tone struck Thursday, comprehensive immigration reform is no closer to reality, some analysts said.

"It really didn't say anything; it's more of a PR tactic -- the pro-amnesty side is getting nervous," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. "It's intended to reassure people that the negotiations haven't broken down."

For weeks, the Senate and the White House have waited for the leading voices in the labor movement and business community to reach an accord on how to handle an influx of immigrant workers. The prospect of a guest worker program foiled the last serious push for immigration reform.

The pact between the two groups gives U.S. workers the "first crack" at any job openings. Positions not filled by an American could then go to foreign workers, ensuring they avoid "permanent temporary status."

The two groups agreed on the need for a visa system for low-skill workers and also championed a new independent federal agency -- similar to the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- to analyze labor shortages. The framework calls for a solution that meets the "needs of business in a market-driven way, while also fully protecting the wages and working conditions of U.S. and immigrant workers."

The White House has declined to publicly endorse a guest worker program during the nascent stages of negotiations, but the agreement struck Thursday virtually ensures the administration will be more vocal about the idea.

And some Republican leaders, who have shown an increased willingness for immigration reforms in the wake of a dismal showing among Hispanic voters in November's elections, endorsed the newfound harmony between the business community and union leaders.

"It is encouraging that two groups often on opposite sides of the aisle are serious about putting politics aside and finding solutions," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. "Let's hope we can follow that lead in the months ahead."

Without backing from both labor and business groups, the simple reality is that any prospective immigration law would crash and burn.

Both sides still lack a plan that would appease Republicans who dismiss a pathway to citizenship as amnesty and Democrats who insist that such a path be included in any legislation. In fact, one Republican accused the president of using the issue purely for political gain in upcoming elections.

"I don't believe President Obama wants an immigration bill to pass, instead I think he wants a political issue," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Wednesday at a speech in Dallas. "His objective is to push so much on the table that he forces Republicans [to] walk away from the table because then he wants to use that issue in 2014 and 2016 as a divisive wedge issue."

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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