Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. If an improving labor market is any indication, the U.S. economy is on a roll. *According to the Labor Department, U.S. employers added 211,000 workers to their payrolls last month. **Unemployment, meanwhile, fell to 4.7 percent. That matches the March jobless figure which was the lowest in 4-and-a-half years. **And the average hourly wage increased by 2 percent to $16.49 per hour. While many workers fail to earn anything close to that figure, the U.S. still is the Promised Land for millions of immigrants who enter the country illegally in hopes of making a decent wage. Hoping to stop the flood of illegals, Congress has been trying to reform U.S. immigration policy. This week, lawmakers were optimistic a broad, bi-partisan compromise would end a deadlock in the Senate. But election-year partisanship thwarted that goal. And by week's end, the Senate delayed a final vote on legislation that would put many of the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship.
The measure calls for enhanced border security, regulation of the future flow of immigrants into the United States and the chance for those in the country unlawfully to gain legal status. It would require illegal immigrants who have been in the U.S. two to five years to return to their home country briefly, then re-enter as temporary or guest workers. Most lawmakers favor creation of some form of a guest worker program, but critics fear the move could lead to amnesty for millions of undocumented immigrants.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-AZ: "Today, we can't find enough people to build houses, but I guarantee you, someday, we'll have a recession and those temporary workers are going to be in a situation under Sen. Kennedy's bill, where they are legally entitled to stay in the U.S. and compete with American jobs. So, get ready for tough times when U.S. workers are upset."
U.S. agriculture relies heavily on immigrant workers. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000 illegal immigrants work for the country's agriculture industry. The Farm Bureau claims a guest worker program is a necessity.
Paul Schlegel, Farm Bureau: "If an enforcement-only bill passes, the outlook for agriculture would be devastating. We would lose potentially between five and nine billion dollars annually in lost production. We cannot afford this. We would fight it."
The Senate measure differs greatly from a stricter version approved by the House last December. That bill did not include a path to legalization or a guest worker program.