Immigration Reform 2013: Business and Labor Agree, Now It's Congress's Turn


When it comes to D.C. politics, the binary system splitting "right" and "wrong" has dominated coverage of just about every national issue. Politicians spend half their time responding to sly jabs from others to cover their image; playing politics is a game. But immigration may be a step from infantile ways. Sunday, business and labor reached agreement on a new guest-worker program.

AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce agreed to terms that satisfies labor's tastes to protect current wages and possibly unionize new immigrants, while fulfilling the business' need for more guest workers. Compromise between the two sides not only comes as a tremendous sigh of relief. The 'Gang of 8' senators who originally initiated the task could serve as an example of a concept long-removed from politics: teamwork. 

Given the traditionally polarized make-up of the Senate gang, the agreement reinforces a momentous change of direction. The make up of the gang includes prominent GOP members Marco Rubio (Fla.), John McCain (Ariz.), and Lindsey Graham (S.C.). Sen. Graham, the South Carolina Republican, is notorious for leading the GOP against virtually all policies with even the chance of being deemed "liberal." For instance, Graham is infamous for saying that immigrants "can't stay unless they learn our language."

Arizona Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain play a peculiar role in immigration talks after recent legislation that drew national criticism. The Arizona law essentially allowed law enforcement agents to tell undocumented workers to "show their papers."

Significantly, however, fellow member of the Gang Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) called immigration reform the "civil rights issue of our time," standing even above marriage equality. 

Other Senate Democrats like Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) have backed this type of policy for some time. Durbin, the senate Majority Whip Leader, authored the controversial DREAM Act. Durbin's Illinois ties with President Obama could bring further coherence to the process.

The agreement comes per the Senate gang's request for Big labor and Big Business to come together. The truce includes the creation of a new bureau that will monitor how labor markets are impacted by immigration workers. The program also entails issuing 20,000 "W-visas" the first year to new workers. W-Visa holders would then have the opportunity to apply for permanent stay in the U.S. Over 5 years, roughly 185,000 new workers would be eligible for these visas. And that's probably a lean estimate.

The key point in recent immigration talks that could be a new source of optimism is that immigration reform is beneficial to both party's interests. In the current political landscape, most problems are viewed as a zero-sum game. A given party can either a) win or b) lose on any given issue. Party politics, competing agendas, and lobbied interests frequently take precedent in cementing this political logic. 

The agreement changes this distortion of democracy. Immigration reform gives the GOP the opportunity to re-brand itself in the eyes of many Hispanic voters. The Democrats gain in that they will finally see policy they have long been fantasizing and romanticizing.

Co-operation just might be on of the most valuable, albeit rarest, political resources today. While both parties constantly try to maintain an edge in the national spotlight, compromise on this issue just might be a sing of things to come.

As a constituent, I wonder what else I can be doing to push more of these types of solutions. How can we re-frame some of these issues, like the environment and the budget, so that it appears in the interest of both parties to work together?

While it is no guarantee that the agreement will get through Congress, the agreement to let more immigrant workers into the U.S. is monumental. The two primary lobbying powers, business and labor, have agreed. Now its Republicans' and Democrats' turn to follow suit.