The White House is treading cautiously, sensing that business and labor leaders are closing in on an agreement that would make the two sides powerful allies in Obama’s push to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws this year. On Tuesday, the president met separately with representatives from both sides, hoping to marshal their support.
“We talked about a data-driven system that is actually driven by needs and not by aspirations of employers,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who attended the meeting with labor leaders. “We talked about a fair system. . . . We’re working on it now. We’re hopeful.”
The behind-the-scenes negotiations come as the Obama administration faces a difficult path in shepherding a potential comprehensive immigration bill through the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-led House. The effort could face serious obstacles, including disagreements over whether a plan should include same-sex couples or provide a path for citizenship for illegal immigrants.
In the first immigration hearing at the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, early partisan cracks emerged on issues such as a path to citizenship and a guest-worker program.
Rep. Raul R. Labrador (R-Idaho) said he is “dumbfounded” by opposition to a guest-worker program. But he said he opposes providing a path to citizenship as part of a reform package, as Obama and other Democrats favor.
The hearing was briefly interrupted by a knot of protesters shouting, “Undocumented and unafraid!”
In addition to determining how many visas would be granted to foreign guest workers, lawmakers will have to decide what rights those immigrants would have in terms of benefits and health care, and whether they would be able to apply for citizenship or be forced to return home.
The administration appears willing to let lawmakers and interest groups work out the details.
“We will look to the Senate to — or the Congress — to develop proposals on this issue if the Congress desires,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said last week. “And we would want to make sure that it protects workers, including immigrant workers, and that it is actually based on data-driven workforce demands, rather than political whim.”
Over the past several weeks, Trumka has been engaged in private talks with U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas J. Donohue. Both have publicly supported other major tenets of immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.