The question now is not whether, but when.
I'm talking about a major overhaul of America's dysfunctional immigration system. With Friday's agreement between the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the terms of a guest worker program it's clear that immigration reform is going to be a reality this time around. The momentum is unstoppable.
The agreement, which bridged a gap that potentially threatened a broader immigration overhaul, provides for an immigrant guest worker program which includes a pathway to permanent residence. According to press reports, a new temporary immigrant "W Visa" will be created for "low skilled" workers in shortage occupations, including immigrants in hospitality, janitorial, retail, and construction jobs; you know, the folks that clean hotel rooms, wash dishes in stuffy restaurant kitchens, pick fruit in the blazing sun, and toil in the construction industry -- occupations which, in fact, require a lot of focus, dedication and, yes, skill.
The agreement protects American workers by regulating guest worker wage levels and tying the number of available visas to the strength of the U.S. economy, including the unemployment rate. According to BloombergBusinessweek, the program "would start with 20,000 visas in the first year, 35,000 in the second, 55,000 in the third and 75,000 in the fourth. On year five the number would grow or shrink based on a formula that takes into account the unemployment rate, the number of job openings and other factors."
As we'd expect with any major policy proposal there will be plenty of analysis, criticism, and second guessing over the next several days as Congress gets set to reconvene after the Easter/Passover break. But what's crystal clear is that two traditionally adverse interest groups have hammered out an agreement which trumpets -- indeed screams -- that America needs comprehensive immigration reform.
The fact that business and labor could come together on a well-designed guest worker program -- perhaps one of the most contentious issues in the immigration reform debate -- means the energy is there, the desire is there, and the need is there for immigration reform. And if the AFL-CIO and U.S. Chamber of Commerce can find common ground when an agreement seemed all but impossible a few days ago, then Democrats and Republicans in Washington can too.