What: All Issues : Making Government Work for Everyone, Not Just the Rich or Powerful : Immigration Law Reform : S 1348. (Immigration overhaul) Amendment by Dorgan of North Dakota that would put an end date on the temporary guest worker visa program/On agreeing to the amendment (2007 senate Roll Call 178)
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S 1348. (Immigration overhaul) Amendment by Dorgan of North Dakota that would put an end date on the temporary guest worker visa program/On agreeing to the amendment
senate Roll Call 178     May 24, 2007
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This vote occurred on an amendment offered by Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., that would put an end date (often called a “sunset date”) on a provision in the underlying bill establishing a guest worker program for immigrants.  The amendment would require that the guest worker program end five years after the bill was enacted, unless Congress decided to renew it.  The amendment was offered to a bill intended to overhaul America’s immigration system. 

The guest worker program in the underlying bill would authorize hundreds of thousands of temporary visas each year for immigrants who want to work in America.  These visas would allow them to live and work in the United States for two years.  The visas could be renewed twice, but the recipients would have to return home for a year in between each stay.  The visa holder would be allowed to bring family members with them for one two-year stretch, though if they exercise that option it would cost them one of their renewals.

President Bush and many Republicans, backed by business groups, consider a guest worker program an essential part of any immigration overhaul, feeling that it would encourage many people who currently work illegally to obtain one of the new visas.  Many Democrats and organized labor dislike the guest worker program, believing it would not give guest workers a fair chance at earning permanent citizenship and would unfairly disadvantage American workers, among other problems.

Dorgan said he supports legal immigration through quotas, but believes that the guest worker program is more beneficial to big businesses which want cheap labor than to the American workforce. During earlier consideration of the immigration overhaul bill, Dorgan (along with progressive Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.), sought to eliminate the program completely, but the amendment failed. 

“A sunset clause doesn’t mean a piece of legislation will not get reauthorized. It might. If all of the claims that buttress the original passage turn out to be accurate, then you might well want to reauthorize it,” Dorgan said. “But with other pieces of legislation, we have sunsetted key provisions. Why wouldn’t we want to do the same with respect to temporary workers, which will open the gate and say come into this country?”

Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., one of the most progressive members of the Senate and a cosponsor of the underlying bill, said the bill has built-in mechanisms to ensure that the guest worker program is under constant review, including reports to Congress.

“If we want to make the judgment to change the numbers, the conditions, the various incentives, we have the opportunity to do so. We believe—and I think the Senator makes a valid point—that it is useful to have self-corrective opportunities. He would do it by ending the program, by finishing it, by sunsetting it. We do it by having a review by people who can make a judgment and a decision and give information to Congress so that we can do it,” Kennedy said.

By a vote of 48-49, the amendment was rejected.  Most Republicans voted against the amendment, though nine did not.  And most Democrats voted for the amendment, though 10 did not.  The most progressive members of the Senate voted for the amendment, with the exception of Kennedy, a cosponsor of the bill. Kennedy said the bill was a carefully crafted bipartisan compromise and that he was afraid that the amendment would unravel the coalition that brought the bill to the floor in the first place. Thus, the amendment was defeated, and the bill went forward without an end date on its guest worker program.
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