The nation’s top business and labor groups were near agreement Friday on a guest worker program for low-skilled immigrants, closing in on a deal that would eliminate one of the last significant obstacles to a new proposal for a broad overhaul of immigration laws.
The progress in the talks, which stalled late last week, had members of a bipartisan group of eight senators that has been working on an immigration bill increasingly optimistic that they would be able to introduce comprehensive legislation in the Senate when Congress returns the second week of April.
“We are very close, closer than we’ve ever been,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York and a member of the Senate group. “We are very optimistic, but there are a few issues remaining.”
The intense talks, and the willingness of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. — two groups that have often found themselves deeply divided over the immigration debate — to try to hammer out an agreement, was an indication of how much the climate has changed on overhauling the nation’s immigration laws.
When President George W. Bush pushed to revamp immigration laws in 2007, the inability of business and labor to agree on a plan for temporary guest workers was among the main reasons that effort failed. But now the two groups have weathered leaks to the news media and other setbacks in a sign of how serious both Democrats and Republicans are about getting a bill on President Obama’s desk by the end of the year.
Some involved in the negotiations remained hopeful that a deal would be reached by the weekend, but the Congressional recess, along with the Good Friday observance, made it difficult to lock all the moving pieces in place, those close to the talks said. And, while the members of the bipartisan group were optimistic, aides cautioned that no deal would be final until all the senators had signed off on every piece of the legislation.
The Chamber of Commerce and the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the nation’s main federation of labor unions, have been in discussions parallel to those of the Senate group, and have already reached a tentative agreement about the size and scope of a temporary guest worker program, which would grant up to 200,000 new visas annually for low-skilled workers. The labor-business talks came close to breaking down last Friday, on the eve of a two-week Congressional recess, over theissue of what the pay levels should be for low-skilled immigrants — often employed at restaurants and hotels or on construction projects — who could be brought in when employers said they faced labor shortages.
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