ABC, in conjunction with four other construction groups, advocated for a reasonable and balanced approach to comprehensive immigration reform in a Feb. 22 letter sent to the “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group of Senators working on the same issue. The letter
was signed by ABC, Associated General Contractors, Leading Builders of America, National Association of Home Builders and National Roofing Contractors Association.
“We have a unique opportunity before us to reform our immigration policies to enhance our security, protect our economy, and continue our heritage as a welcoming country of immigrants,” the groups wrote. “We urge you to continue working together to craft a reasonable and balanced approach to addressing America’s immigration problems in a way that resolves the issue for the long-term.”
In the letter, the groups called for a viable immigration remedy that accomplishes four things:
- strengthens our national security;
- creates a role for employers in an employment system that functions in a fair, efficient and workable way;
- addresses the realities of future workforce needs in the less-skilled sectors; and
- finds a reasonable, rational way of dealing with the current undocumented population in the United States.
Specifically, the groups called for any future immigration law to include a program to provide a legal path for foreign workers to enter the U.S. when the economy needs them, with fewer entering when the economy contracts. Unfortunately, current immigration laws—which all but ignore the needs of sectors that utilize less-skilled immigrant workers—disproportionately affect construction companies because of their fluctuating work needs. Because of this, the groups advocated for a guestworker program that includes:
- an annual visa cap that fluctuates based on a demand-driven system that reflects the real economic needs of the nation;
- an opportunity for employers to petition for an approved slot that allows them to hire visa-holding foreign workers, and replace those workers if/when they move onto another approved job slot;
- a time period for job slot approvals, and approved visas, that reflects a long enough time period to ensure that the training investment made by employers is not lost;
- a program that requires employers to treat legal foreign workers in the same manner as U.S. workers—with all of the same benefits, workforce protections and wage rates as similarly situated workers at the same location; and
- a dual-intent process that allows some foreign workers who have demonstrated a commitment to their jobs and their communities to choose to petition for a change of status to a permanent legal status in the United States, while also incentivizing most foreign workers to return to their home country at the end of their visa period.
In the letter, the groups also supported implementation of an efficient, practical and accurate employment verification system that provides liability protection for employers who comply with the system in good faith. The letter noted that this system should be phased in according to company size, and should not burden employers either financially or functionally. In addition, any employment verification system also should hold all U.S. employers accountable for the work authorization status of their direct employees, and not create vicarious liability by holding employers accountable for the hiring decisions made by entities with whom they have a contract, subcontract, or exchange. The Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 2885), introduced by then-Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) in the 112th Congress was the first step in creating an employment eligibility verification system that is workable for both employers and employees.
Finally, the groups offered support for the efforts of lawmakers to create an earned pathway to legal status for current undocumented workers who meet qualifying criteria. They called attention to the gap of specialized and educated workers created by a lack of U.S. workers, a lack of legal immigration programs for less-skilled workers, and a growing American economy that has been filled by undocumented workers. In addition, the groups called for any program geared to earned legalization for the current population of undocumented workers also to include a fix to the employment-based immigrant visa process and numerical limitations.
The Gang of Eight includes Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).