San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, right, and his twin, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, center, talked with Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, before a House Judiciary Committee on immigration on Tuesday.

Susan Walsh, Associated Press

Obama seeks agreement on foreign guest workers

  • Article by: DAVID NAKAMURA
  • Washington Post
  • February 5, 2013 - 7:49 PM

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is trying to broker a deal between business and labor leaders over a controversial guest-worker program for foreigners that would resolve a sticking point that has created political peril for President Obama in the past.

In the 2007 debate over an immigration overhaul, Obama -- then a senator from Illinois -- voted for an amendment backed by labor unions that would have phased out a guest-worker program after five years. Some Republican leaders now say that measure helped kill broader legislation for an overhaul.

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 revamp 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. "We talked about a fair system. ... We're working on it now. We're hopeful."

The negotiations come as the Obama administration faces a difficult path in shepherding a comprehensive immigration bill through the Democrat-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 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 an overhaul package as Obama and other Democrats favor.

In addition to determining how many visas would be granted to foreign 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, with Trumka engaged in private talks with U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue over the past several weeks.

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