US immigration debate opens up great divide in Republican party
April 18, 2006
Yet again, a key issue for businesses has been
turned into an internal political battle, pitting social conservatives
against more economically liberal voices, writes Stephen Ellis
WHILE the most visible reaction after proposed reforms to US
immigration laws, stalled in Congress last week, was the hundreds of
thousands of mostly Latino demonstrators drawn onto the streets, behind
the scenes most US business leaders were equally disappointed.
Most US business leaders and lobby groups have vigorously supported the
Bush administration’s push for reforms that would legalise the
residency and work status of most illegal immigrants, and put many on a
path to US citizenship.
There are an estimated 11 million people who live and work illegally in the US, up from an estimated 3 million in 1985.
Over recent years, despite increased border security and heavy
spending on fences, aircraft patrols and fancy detection technologies,
the annual inflow is estimated to have hovered around 850,000.
As these individuals have become integrated into the economy, many industries have become dependent on them.
This is particularly true of labour-intensive areas such as
agriculture, low-tech manufacturing, hotels and hospitality,
residential construction and domestic services, where unskilled or
semi-skilled illegal immigrants often form the backbone of the labour
Firms in these sectors have warned of the economic disruption
that would follow if laws were changed to force employers to scrutinise
the credentials of would-be workers more closely, and to increase
penalties on companies found to be employing illegal workers.
This would be a radical departure from the current environment,
where the federal Government, more or less, ignores breaches of the
immigration rules by businesses that hire these workers, in what is a
tacit acknowledgement of economic reality.
But there has also been more general business support for the
reforms proposed by the White House, which would have created a new
category of legal guest workers, and allowed the majority of the
illegals already in the US to stay and eventually become citizens if
they could present a solid work and tax-paying history.