Immigration passes Senate: What’s next?


Last week the U.S. Senate passed S. 744, Congress’ first serious attempt at comprehensive immigration reform since 2007.

The bill, hammered out by a bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Eight,” led by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), passed with a majority of 68 to 32 that included all Democratic and 14 Republican senators.

If anything concerning immigration reform can be easy, this was the easy part. Getting a bill through the Republican-controlled House will be a challenge. After the Senate action last Friday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, stated flatly that the House will not take up the Senate bill but will come up with one of its own.

To this point, no House Republican has taken up the cause of comprehensive immigration reform as Rubio and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have done. It was their leadership which was, in large measure, responsible for getting S. 744 through the Senate.

The policy differences that separate the Senate bill from positions being taken by the House Republican caucus are deep. Essentially, the Senate bill has three major components:

1). Strengthen border security;
2). Fix existing guest worker programs (such as H-2A and H-2B) and create new ones; and
3). Create a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million to 12 million immigrants who are already in this country but are undocumented.

This is the same policy framework for comprehensive immigration reform that our national associations the American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA, now merged with OFA) and Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) have been advocating for years.

On the first issue, border security, there’s agreement in principal between the Senate and House, but it’s a matter of degree. The Senate bill has $46 billion for border security. The House leadership wants more. It’s possible to see a compromise being worked out here.

On the second issue, differences revolve around whether guest-worker programs take jobs from U.S. citizens. This is one area where some Democrats and some Republicans agree. Unfortunately, not in the way we would like.

Early on, labor unions fought hard against guest-worker programs in the Senate bill but in the end capitulated. Unions see guest workers as depressing wages and taking jobs from union members. Republicans object to having foreign nationals working in the country when unemployment among U.S. citizens is still above 7 percent.

Guest-worker programs like H-2A and H-2B are keys to agriculture, business and Green Industry support for immigration reform. An alliance between unions on the left and anti-immigrant forces on the right could spell trouble.

The last issue, a pathway to citizenship for workers who are presently in the country undocumented, may be the most difficult to resolve.

Rubio led the way among Republicans in advocating for a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented. He believes a pathway to citizenship is the key to allow Republicans to make inroads into gains made by Democrats with Latino voters in the last two presidential elections.

On the other side of the Capitol, House Republicans look at the Senate bill as providing “amnesty” to the undocumented, an issue which was largely responsible for derailing the last attempt at comprehensive reform in 2007. The amnesty issue is one that riles the grassroots base of the Republican party and Rubio has taken many arrows from within his party for his stand on the pathway to citizenship.

For Democrats, the pathway to citizenship is fundamental to any bill they would support. Politically, they see it as helping to cement the party’s relationship with Latino voters.

‘We cannot sit idly by’

In his statement Friday, Boehner said he’s encouraging the members of his caucus to return to their districts over the July 4 recess and listen to what their constituents are saying about immigration reform. Many have scheduled town hall meetings and other opportunities to hear their constituents.

It was a conservative backlash that derailed the last attempt at comprehensive immigration reform in June 2007. Senators and members of Congress were pummeled at town hall meetings and on talk radio during the spring of 2007 with the “No Amnesty!” battle cry. The Bush administration, having taken a leadership role in promoting comprehensive reform, saw its comprehensive immigration reform bill garner only 12 of 49 Republican votes in the Senate. The bill died and the Bush administration made no further attempts at immigration reform.

We will most likely see a similar grassroots reaction during this week’s July 4 recess. For those of us who see comprehensive immigration reform as well past due, I hope we’ve learned that we cannot sit idly by and let the anti-immigration reform forces win the day.

Find out where your Congressman or Senator is holding a town hall meeting or other similar forum this week and make your voice heard.

In the coming months, I’ll be writing more about immigration reform and what it may mean for Green Industry business owners as the debate unfolds. Please consider sharing your thoughts with us via email or in the comments section below.


Avatar photo

Gregg Robertson

Gregg Robertson, Landscape Management's government relations blogger, is a government relations consultant for the Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association (PLNA) and president of Conewago Ventures. From 2002 until May 2013 he served as president of PLNA. Reach him at gregg.robertson@conewagoventures.com.

To top
Skip to content