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Rubio: Immigration deal still needs hashing out

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio cautioned that the bipartisan group of senators working on immigration reform legislation still has details to work out. Democrat Chuck Schumer said the group was on track.

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Schumer negotiated the deal between AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and Chamber of Commerce head Tom Donohue during a late-Friday phone call. Under the compromise, the government would create a new "W'' visa for low-skill workers who would earn wages paid to Americans or the prevailing wages for the industry they're working in, whichever is higher. The Labor Department would determine prevailing wage based on customary rates in specific localities, so that it would vary from city to city.

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The proposed measure would secure the border, crack down on employers, improve legal immigration and create a 13-year pathway to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants already here.

It's a major second-term priority of President Barack Obama's and would usher in the most dramatic changes to the faltering U.S. immigration system in more than two decades.

"This is a legacy item for him. There is no doubt in my mind that he wants to pass comprehensive immigration reform," said David Axelrod, a longtime political confidant of Obama.

During the last week, an immigration deal seemed doomed. But the breakthrough late Friday restarted the talks.

Ultimately the new "W'' visa program would be capped at 200,000 workers a year, but the number of visas would fluctuate, depending on unemployment rates, job openings, employer demand and data collected by a new federal bureau being pushed by labor groups as an objective monitor of the market, according to an official involved with the talks who also spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement.

A "safety valve" would allow employers to exceed the cap, the official said, if they could show need and pay premium wages, but any additional workers brought in would be subtracted from the next year's cap.

The workers could move from employer to employer and would be able to petition for permanent residency and ultimately seek U.S. citizenship. Neither is possible for temporary workers now.

"As to the 11 million (illegal immigrants), they'll have a pathway to citizenship, but it will be earned, it will be long, and it will be hard, and I think it is fair," Graham said.

The new program would fill needs employers say they have that are not currently met by U.S. immigration programs. Most industries don't have a good way to hire a steady supply of foreign workers because there's one temporary visa program for low-wage nonagricultural workers but it's capped at 66,000 visas per year and is only supposed to be used for seasonal or temporary jobs.

Separately, the new immigration bill also is expected to offer many more visas for high-tech workers, new visas for agriculture workers, and provisions allowing some agriculture workers already in the U.S. a speedier path to citizenship than that provided to other illegal immigrants, in an effort to create a stable agricultural workforce.

Schumer, Flake and Axelrod appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press." Graham was interviewed on CNN's "State of the Union."

Associated Press writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.

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