Thursday, April 11, 2013

House immigration bill stuck on workers

As a secretive House group works toward a bipartisan fix to the nation’s immigration laws, at least two key issues are emerging as potential flashpoints that could force the two parties in different directions.

The group of eight lawmakers — four Republicans and four Democrats — initially agreed internally to consider a deal on visas for low-skilled workers cut by labor and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which have been working with senators trying to advance a higher-profile immigration plan. But Republicans are now privately ruling out that compromise, saying it is too friendly to labor.

These Republicans are instead moving to introduce their own legislation for low-skilled workers entering the U.S., according to Democrats and Republicans involved in the negotiations.

Republicans are also mulling over hefty restrictions on companies that hire higher-skilled workers. An employer that hires an H-1B worker would need to certify they haven’t fired anyone 90 days before or after having that employee work at the site — a method to ensure companies aren’t firing U.S. workers and replacing them with foreign workers. Some GOP lawmakers could introduce a bill containing this language in coming weeks, several sources familiar with negotiations said.

The House group initially planned to announce its immigration proposal this week, but several unresolved issues have delayed it. The Senate’s Gang of Eight — a bipartisan group — is also working on sweeping immigration reform, which is nearing completion after a deal on low-skilled workers.

Republicans considering going their own way on those two issues don’t signal the end for the House group. Their difficulties in signing on to the plan, however, highlight the different paths the House and Senate are taking in trying to craft a sweeping immigration overhaul.

As the Senate seeks to move a singular package, the House is likely to move its immigration overhaul in pieces, which will give lawmakers in both parties the opportunity to publicly vote against elements of the overhaul without bringing down the whole proposal. Whichever elements of the bill eventually pass the House will then be negotiated with the Senate’s legislation.

“I am very, very optimistic that the House is going to have a plan that is going to be able to go to a conference with the Senate in which we are going to be able to resolve differences,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

As the House returns this week, the immigration group will kick into high gear. The group includes Republican Reps. Sam Johnson and John Carter of Texas, Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida and Raul Labrador of Idaho. Democrats in the group include Gutierrez, and Reps. Xavier Becerra of California, Zoe Lofgren of California and John Yarmuth of Kentucky.


Australian conservative leader accuses Government of 'surrender' on boat arrivals

The Federal Government has reacted angrily to an accusation from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that it has "surrendered" in the battle to curb boat arrivals.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare has ordered an investigation into how a boat full of asylum seekers apparently slipped past Customs surveillance before sailing into Geraldton in Western Australia yesterday.

This morning Mr Abbott told commercial radio that the latest arrival was a "disaster".  "It just gets worse and worse all the time and I think effectively the Government has kind of surrendered," he said.

"And the problem with surrendering on boat people is that in the end it discredits the whole of our immigration program."

The boat which arrived in Geraldton was carrying 66 Sri Lankans who said they wanted to get to New Zealand.  Their rickety fishing boat, with a 'Deutsche Bank' logo painted on the side, was intercepted just 100 metres off shore after locals alerted authorities.  They had spent 44 days at sea.

It was the first case in five years that an asylum seeker boat had reached the mainland.

But Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor accused Mr Abbott of "acting hysterically".  He said 19 boats managed to reach the mainland undetected during the years of the Howard government.

"If you're looking at any benchmark then every Immigration Minister during the Howard years should have resigned," he said.

"The difference is the then-Opposition was not acting hysterically and calling this a 'surrender' as the Leader of the Opposition has.  "Last week we had Tony Abbott talking about our economy and comparing it with Cyprus and today he's talking about surrendering.  "He is not fit for prime ministership."

Mr Clare also rejected Mr Abbott's view that the Government had "surrendered", saying the language was "not helpful".  "It's indicative of the bigger problem with this debate," he told ABC radio's AM program.

"The political parties have been fighting about this now for more than a decade, and it's politics that has poisoned this debate."

Mr Clare said Border Protection Command had advised him that the boat travelled an unusual route from Sri Lanka.

"Their initial advice is they believe the vessel travelled directly from Sri Lanka to Geraldton, which meant that it travelled in a way that is south of the main surveillance area, south of where most of our planes and patrol boats are focused," he said.

"All of our patrol boats and our surveillance aircraft are targetted at the north west where 99 per cent of vessels arrive and are intercepted.

"I've asked customs and border protection to review the circumstances of this case and advise me whether there needs to be changes to the way in which we patrol the seas in the north west."

But Mr Clare brushed aside questions relating to the cost of possibly patrolling further south.  "All of the early advice to me is that this is highly unusual," he said.

"We'll interview the people on the boat to see what their motivations were but 99.9 per cent of vessels that are intercepted are heading either to Cocos Island, Christmas Island or Ashmore Island.

"People do that because they're seeking the shortest trip possible."


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