In an interview with The Associated Press, Sen. Chuck Schumer said an immigration bill can be done by the end of the year or early next year that works out disagreements between labor and business interests on the flow of legal foreign workers.
"I think we'll have a good bill by Labor Day," said Schumer, D-N.Y. "I think the fundamental building blocks are in place to do comprehensive immigration reform."
Schumer said the way to get the bill done is to be very tough on future waves of illegal immigration. He declared himself pro-immigration and said the U.S. should encourage legal immigration and find some kind of path for people now here to find a way to legal citizenship.
"We have a shortage maybe of engineers here or Ph.D's in physics, but we probably don't have a shortage of people who can do construction work," Schumer said.
The AFL-CIO and the Change to Win labor unions earlier this year announced their support for immigration reform, which they have opposed in the past.
But the unions' continued opposition to increases in visas for foreign workers is at odds with the demand by business for legal foreign workers in industries ranging from high-technology to agriculture.
"I think one of the ways to bridge it is to look at the different areas of labor and where there are shortages and where there are not and where just workers are being brought in for exploitive purposes — broadly put meaning just get lower wages — rather than having a shortage," Schumer said. "I think if you look at each broad field you can see that one size does not fit all."
Schumer's office has met to dyscuss his bill with Compete America, a coalition pushing for more visas for foreign workers. Members of the group are skeptical of a labor proposal for an appointed commission to set limits on visas and green cards given to legal residents, said Robert Hoffman, an in-house lobbyist for Oracle, a software company and member of Compete America.
Ana Avendano, AFL-CIO's director of immigration policy, said Schumer's "one size doesn't fit all" view is shared by labor. "We want employers to have workers they need, but the key is determining when there is a real need, not one employers make up when they import temporary workers."
Earlier Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said beginning Sept. 8, businesses wanting federal contracts would have to use E-Verify, a Web-based system, to check whether their employees are legally working in the U.S. The Bush and Obama administrations had delayed implementing the rule.
The Senate voted for a proposal to make the E-Verify system permanent as it debated a spending bill for the Homeland Security Department.
The department also said it is abandoning a Bush administration plan to force employers to fire workers who can't resolve a mismatch between their Social Security numbers don't match their names. The administration said it would come up with a new rule.
The Bush administration had tried to root out undocumented workers through so-called "no-match" letters that the Social Security Administration sends employers. But a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union has prevented the rule from taking effect.
Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said the two announcements send mixed signals.
"The administration is saying illegal immigrants shouldn't have jobs by supporting the federal contracting rule, but making it harder for companies to follow the law by doing away with the Bush 'no-match rule,' " Smith said.