Thursday, May 24, 2007
Story of the Day-Immigration
Penn & Teller Bullshit - Immigration Part 1
Penn & Teller Bullshit - Immigration Part 2
Penn & Teller Bullshit - Immigration Part 3
Nearly 70,000 foreigners arrive in the United States every day. Most of these travelers are visitors, not settlers. More than 60,000 are tourists, business people, students, or foreign workers who are welcomed at airports and border crossings. About 2,200 daily arrivals are immigrants or refugees who have been invited to become permanent residents of the United States. Finally, about 5,000 foreigners make unauthorized entries each day. About 4,000 of them are apprehended just after they cross the U.S.-Mexico border. But nearly 1,000 elude detection, or slip from legal to illegal status by violating the terms of their visas. Many will remain, while others will return to their home countries."
U.S. Immigration Facts
Immigrants are an essential element in keeping the American economy strong, from fast food businesses to high-tech industry, they are filling an intrinsic need in the labor force.
From programmers in Silicon Alley to restaurant bus boys in Bethesda, MD and nurses in New York, immigrants are filling jobs that otherwise might go begging." (Business Week, "How Immigrants Keep the Hive Humming, April 24, 2002).
The U.S. government has forecast a shortage of 20 million workers by 2026, prompting many parties to call for a relaxation of the US immigration laws in order to meet the labor demand.
Alan Greenspan, the Federal Reserve Chairman, has warned repeatedly that the shortage of workers could lead to inflation. He commented that "Under the conditions that we now confront, we should be very carefully focused on the contribution which skilled people from abroad, (as well as) unskilled people from abroad, can contribute to this country, as they have for generation after generation.
General Facts about Recent US immigration
The total number of immigrants per year (including illegal and refugees) is somewhat less than it was in the peak years at the start of the 20th century, when the US population was less half as large its current population. The rate of US immigration relative to the population is low rather than high. US immigration as a proportion of population is about a third of what is was in the peak years.
The foreign-born population of the US is 9.5 percent of the total population (in 2000). This can be compared to the 2000's proportions of 22.7 in Australia; 16 percent in Canada; 6.3 in France; 7.3 in Germany; 3.9 percent in Great Britain; and 5.7 in Sweden.
Though the volume of illegal immigrants is difficult to estimate, its estimated through a consensus of methods, that the number is approximately 3.2 million, lowered by the amnesty of 1987-1988, but not very different from the previous decade. The rate of illegal immigrants is agreed by experts to be about 250,000 to 300,000 per year. More than half of illegal immigrants enter the US legally and overstay their visas.
The United States as the great "melting pot" has become a myth. The reality is that there is a continued geographic concentration of minority groups in certain regions and in specific metropolitan areas. This holds true especially for Hispanics and Asians, who tend to enter the US through "gateway cities" such as Los Angeles and New York and then remain there.
Los Angeles is home to one fifth of the US Hispanic population. First in growth of all US cities; it gained18 percent of the Hispanic population between 1900 and 2000. Mexican and Latin-American immigrants and continued high fertility rates account for the increases.
The Census of 2000 made clear minorities grew at 12 times the rate of whites. By the year 2050 according to Census projections racial and ethnic minorities will outnumber non-Hispanic whites. In the next fifty years this demographic shift will transform politics and business.
California will achieve a statewide "minority majority" in 2004 and Texas by 2010. Though generally most communities in the US lack true racial and ethnic diversity, the Census Bureau identified twenty- one counties that qualify as "multiple melting pots" (see box below) where there is a significant presence of more than two minority groups. These communities will continue to become unique markets as the blending of culture and intermarriage transform their personality.
Multiple Melting Pots:
California: Salinas, Merced, Stockton-Lodi, Fresno (41% Hispanic 8% Asian), Vasalia-Tulare-Porterville (Hispanic 45% Asian 5%), Yuba City (Hispanic 18% Asian 11%) , Modesto (Hispanic 27% Asian 6%), Sacramento-Yolo (Hispanic 14% Asian 9%), Santa Barbara (Hispanic 32% Asian 5%), San Diego (Hispanic 25% Asian 9%) , San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose (Hispanic 19% Asian17%), and Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County (38% Hispanic, 10% Asian).
Texas: they include Laredo, Odessa-Midland( 37% Hispanic 2% Asian), Houston-Galveston-Brazoria (Hispanic 24% Asian 4%), Killeen-Temple(Hispanic 15% Asian 4%) , Bronsville-Harlingen-San Benito (Hispanic 15% Asian 3%), McAllen-Edinburg-Mission (Hispanic 15% Asian 1%).
Other: New York,-New Jersey-Long Island-Connecticut- Pennsylvania (Hispanic17% Asian 6%) Chicago-Gary-Kenosha (Hispanic 13% Asian 4%) and Washington, DC-Baltimore, MD (Hispanic 5% Asian 5%)
Thirty metros out of two hundred seventy six account for seventy percent of all Hispanic growth in the 1990's. Houston increased its Hispanic population the most with more than half a million moving there over the decade. Phoenix, more than doubled its Hispanic population over the 1990's and Las Vegas and Atlanta more than doubled and tripled their Hispanic populations respectively.
The three Asian strongholds - New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco account for 37 percent of all Asian gains in 2000. Metros with fast growing but smaller Asian populations include Dallas, which doubled its population an d Atlanta, where it tripled.
Las Vegas added significantly to both its Hispanic and Asian population and Orlando gained in its Hispanic numbers. As employment opportunities open up, states such as Georgia, North Carolina , Nevada, Utah, and parts of the Midwest new immigrant s have been pioneers in moving to these untested waters and establishing minority frontiers.
Though Chinese Americans constitute the largest Asian subgroup in the US (2.4 million and 24% of total population), the Asian Indian growth of 106 percent in the last decade was unprecedented and the largest of any Asian sub group. This was followed by the Vietnamese American community (83% growth rate and 1.3 million in population).
The decline in Japanese population may be attributed to a decline in their population growth.
Of particular note is the doubling of the Asian Indian population in the United States within the last ten years. The demand for hi-tech visa workers, (especially software programmers) and the increase in immigrants sponsoring their families are amongst the major reasons for the increase.
There is a shortage of skilled workers in the software development industry. There is a bill H.R.2202 which is on its way to Congress and will make it more difficult to obtain these hi-tech visas. In New York City and New Jersey Indians are running for local office to bolster their political representation.
According to an estimate provided by the US immigration Support Network, a lobby group that works in the interests of H1-B workers, last year there were approximately 400,000.
Asian Indian hi-tech visa holders in the US. Most had arrived in the past few years to run what was then the booming new economy based in the Internet business. The recent slowdown in "E business" may have an affect on this population, but its probably premature to analyze the effects of the fallout on this particular population.
Immigrants Continue the Historical Trend of Self-Employment into the 21st Century
Immigrants are significantly more likely to be self employed than natives. The Horatio Alger story of making good in the "New World" has carried on in the proliferation of family owned businesses such as the Korean corner store or the Hispanic Bodega.
In the last decade hi tech professional immigrants have made extraordinary contributions to cutting edge US industries. It is estimated that almost one quarter of Silicon valley firms were established by immigrants. Immigrant entrepreneurs have revitalized neighborhood; from Dominicans in Manhattan's Washington Heights to Cubans in Miami's Little Havana, Hispanic immigrants have transformed their communities into thriving economically dynamic strongholds.
Of particular note is the resurgence of small business, which thirty years ago was in decay. Several researchers have suggested that US immigration has encouraged the entrepreneurial drive of the total population, significantly contributing to this transformation.
Possibly because the competition for low-skilled work has intensified, a viable route up the socio-economic ladder has become entrepreneurship as an important alternative to wage labor.
Certain factors such as geographical concentration, interdependent networks of social and business relationships, and a relatively sophisticated division of labor are all factors in creating the right circumstances for small family run businesses to thrive. As an example the proportion of Cuban owned businesses in Miami from 1993 to 2000 rose from 8 to 24 percent.
Immigrant communities take care of their own and that can amount to "social capital" which can positively influence the socio-economic opportunities of the individual immigrant. "Prevailing market conditions and in part accessibility of those businesses to immigrant ownership" are important aspects in family run businesses." (University of California researcher, Roger Waldinger)
Since many newcomers retain close links with their adopted land, businesses that service needs such as tax accounting firms and travel agencies tend to flourish. In the 1960's in Chicago the new Korean immigrants bought out businesses owned by elderly Jews who were leaving the old inner city neighborhoods and entered into the wig business selling "European" and "African" style wigs. In the seventies, the Korean deli and its ingenious salad bar became a staple of numerous inner cities.
As immigrants manifest a tendency to affiliate with others of their own ethnicity or national origin, creating a community of buyers, sellers, laborers, employers and financiers, as well as tightly meshed networks of information.
There are other researchers that argue that human and financial capital and not "social capital" are the key determinants of business activity. A study by Patricia Pessar among Hispanic immigrants in Washington, DC found "that ethnic solidarity was neither pervasive nor even necessarily desired by immigrants."
Andrew Yuengert who conducted statistical analysis suggests "Immigrants from countries with high self-employment rates have higher than average self employment in the US. And that immigrant s tend to concentrate in states with progressive tax codes, which may act as incentives to pursue self-employment, with its greater opportunities for tax avoidance. Yuengert 's research found that these two factors account for 62% of immigrant self-employment participation.
Other research indicates that the immigrant family, rather than the immigrant community is the key social connector. "The family's chief advantages are not simply tangible products, such as unpaid labor, but also involve the mutual obligation and trust characteristic of solidaristic small groups." (Sanders and Nee)
The downside of immigrant entrepreneurship has been hotly debated in recent times. The image of the toiling immigrant pulling himself up by his bootstraps in a new land is something of a cliché.
In another light the ethnic solidarity that is a lynch pin to immigrant based small business can also be seen as exclusionary and clannish, impeding access to business and employment in the main stream, especially for the succeeding generation. However its appears that overall self employment is generally a positive factor for the immigrant, suggesting that entrepreneurship reflects overall economic opportunity rather than distress.
Economic Characteristics of Immigrants
Ten High-Tech Companies started by Immigrants earned $31 Billion in revenues in 2002.
"New immigrants are more concentrated than natives in the youthful labor force ages when people contribute more to the public coffer than they draw from it. Of all the important facts about US immigration relevant to its economic effects, this is the most important and the one which is most consistent." (Cato Institute and National US immigration Forum).
The average education of new immigrants has been increasing with each successive generation. The proportion of adult immigrants with 8 or fewer years of education has been decreasing and the proportion of adult immigrants with 16 years or more has been increasing. The proportion of immigrants with bachelor 's or postgraduate degrees is much higher than the proportion of the native labor force.
Immigrants have increased markedly as a proportion of the member s of scientific and engineering labor force (especially at the highest level of education). Immigrants, even those from countries that are much poorer and have lower life expectancies than the US, are healthier than US natives of the same age and sex. New immigrants have better records with respect to infant mortality and health than do US natives and immigrants who have been in the US longer.
First and second generation immigrant children do unusually well in school. They win a disproportionate amount of scholastic prizes. Immigrants do not cause native unemployment, even among low -paid or minority groups. New immigrants create jobs with their purchasing power and with the new businesses they start.
In an analysis of the 2000 census, where the average household income for natives was $37,300, 1980-1990 immigrants from countries from which most US immigration is legal received $34,800, the average for immigrants from countries with mostly refugees was $27,700, and for those from countries sending illegals $23,900.
Illegal aliens contribute about as much to the public coffers in taxes as they receive in benefits. New data suggests the undocumented pay about 46 percent as much in taxes as do natives, but use about 45 percent as much in services. A poll of the most respected economists found a consensus that both legal and illegal immigrants are beneficial economically.
In regards to the specific minority groups certain characteristics are pertinent. Hispanics are twice as likely to become unemployed based on the 2000 Census. Hispanic and non-Hispanic Whites have different occupational distributions. Hispanics were more likely to work in service occupations (19.4% and 11.8% respectively). Only 14% of Hispanics were employed in managerial or professional occupations, compared with 33.2% of the non-Hispanic whites. Among Latino groups, Mexicans were least likely to work in managerial or professional occupations (11.9%).
Hispanic workers earn less than non-Hispanic workers. In 1999, 23.3% of Hispanics and 49.3% of non-Hispanic Whites earned $35,000 or more. In this same year, 22.8 percent of Hispanics were living in poverty, compared with 7.7% of non-Hispanic Whites. Hispanic children represented 16.2 of all children in the US, but constituted 29% of all the children living in poverty.
However overall immigrants fare well in terms of income with adult, foreign-born, naturalized citizens actually have higher adjusted gross incomes (averaging $40,502) than families with U.S.-born citizens only ($35,249).
According to the most comprehensive study ever done on immigrants, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found that in all their combined roles, immigrants make indispensable contributions to our economy. They compose an increasingly essential proportion of our workforce. Through their tax payments, they help finance the costs of schools, health care, roads, welfare payments, Social Security, and the nation’s defense. Of course, immigrants are also users and beneficiaries of these government programs.
Businesses founded by immigrants are a source of substantial economic and fiscal gain for U.S. citizens. Ten high-tech firms founded by immigrants (Intel, Sun Microsystems, Computer Associates, Solectron Lam Research, LSI Logic, AST Computer, Wang Laboratories, Amtel, and Cypress Semiconductor) generated $31 billion in revenues in 2002. These and other businesses started by immigrants add at least another $29 billion to the total amount of taxes paid by immigrants.
With the U.S. economy in the midst of its longest expansion in history, immigrant workers are increasingly essential to filling jobs ranging from computer programmers to hotel and restaurant workers. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has repeatedly commented that US immigration is an important source of workers in a tight labor market.
The shrinking U.S. labor supply may have serious implications for inflation pressures, Greenspan says, as "there is an effective limit to new hiring, unless US immigration is uncapped." Without an increase in US immigration, inflation--and the resulting slowdown of the economy--could threaten the prosperity of all Americans.
Most immigrants arrive in the United States in the prime of their working years. More than 70 percent of immigrants are over the age of 18 when they arrive in the United States. That means there are roughly 17.5 million immigrants in the United States today whose education and upbringing were paid for by the citizens of the sending country, not American taxpayers. The windfall to the United States of obtaining this human capital at no expense to American taxpayers is roughly $1.43 trillion. This makes immigrants a fiscal bargain for our country.
In summary, it is obvious that immigrants are major contributors to the economic health of the United States. They compose an increasingly essential proportion of our workforce and will continue to do so into the twenty-first century.
As Law Is Renegotiated, Immigrant Families Are on Edge
Amir Nikpouri was struck by love at a family gathering on the first trip he had made in many years to his home country, Iran.
“I never thought I could have so much in common with someone, especially with me living here and her in Tehran,” said Mr. Nikpouri, who is 30 and a longtime legal immigrant in the United States.
Five months after they met, the couple were married, in August 2005 in Tehran. Then Mr. Nikpouri came home to Chicago and read the immigration law that determines when he will be able to bring his new wife from Iran to live with him. He discovered that they would have to wait at least four years, and in the meantime she could not come to the United States even once to visit.
Mr. Nikpouri is one of an estimated 1.5 million legal immigrants in the United States who have been waiting as long as seven years to bring husbands, wives and small children to live with them. Instead of giving them new hope, a bipartisan compromise bill now under debate on the Senate floor would only make their plight worse, senators, lawyers and immigrants said yesterday.
While the bill’s supporters say it would put legal immigrants ahead of illegal ones, immigrant advocacy groups and lawyers who have studied the measure say it is a minefield for those who have been waiting for years in the bureaucratic labyrinths of the immigration system. If the bill passes, they said, millions of foreigners already in the legal pipeline could face even longer waits than they do now.
For future immigrants, priorities would shift to favor those with specialized job skills, higher education levels and English language ability over the family ties that have been the foundation of the system for four decades, making it even more difficult for relatives to immigrate.
Supporters of the bill, including the White House, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, and Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican, say it would help aspiring legal immigrants by eliminating the backlog of about four million visa applications within eight years. A total of 440,000 green cards — as visas for legal permanent residents are known — will be set aside during each of the eight years to reduce the backlog. But by a quirk of the bill, legal immigrants who are seeking to bring spouses would be left out of the backlog reduction and the number of visas allotted to them would be slightly reduced.
“This bill is a disaster for nuclear families, especially if they have obeyed the law,” said Paul Donnelly, an adviser to American Families United, an advocacy group for legal immigrants. “If you talk about family unification and you don’t talk about nuclear families, what do you mean?”
Currently, there is no limit on the number of green cards for foreign spouses and children of American citizens. When foreigners are granted green cards, they too are entitled to bring their spouses and minor children to live in the United States.
But legal immigrants who marry foreigners living abroad after they have become permanent American residents have to get in line to bring them in, and the line is at least four years long.
Mr. Nikpouri moved with his Iranian parents to the United States when he was 13. His parents have become naturalized American citizens and run a family automobile auction business in Chicago. Because of problems in his legal paperwork, Mr. Nikpouri did not receive his green card until 2004.
Under current law, if he applies for a green card for his wife, she cannot come to the United States until it is granted — in 2011, if he is lucky. His other option is to wait until 2009 to apply for American citizenship. Mr. Nikpouri asked — because his wife remains in Iran — that her name not be published.
“I work like a citizen, I pay taxes, but I cannot bring my wife,” Mr. Nikpouri said. “We want to live together. It’s the most basic human possibility.”
Romance found Hans Buwalda, a software engineer who is a legal permanent resident from the Netherlands, when he met a woman from Singapore over the Internet in April 2006. Mr. Buwalda said he pioneered sophisticated software tests at home and brought them to California, where he now lives, to build a business.
Mr. Buwalda says he hopes to remain in this country, but cannot marry his girlfriend if he wants to see her. Marriage to him would preclude her from even visiting the United States until her green card is granted. “Someone like me who is very law abiding, there is no way I can marry, unless I want to postpone my honeymoon for five years,” he said.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, both Democrats, and Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Republican, introduced an amendment to the bill yesterday that would eliminate the numerical limits on green cards for spouses and young children of legal immigrants.
More broadly, people who have battled the overburdened and often arbitrary immigration system were skeptical of the bill because of the immense new workload it would bring.
Among them are Curtis and Glenys Old, who have been fighting a deportation order for her son, Michael Head, a British citizen. Mrs. Old, who was born in Britain, had an Internet romance with Mr. Old, an American, that led to their marriage in July 2002. During their engagement, Mrs. Old brought Mr. Head, who was 19, and her daughter Sarah, then 13, on temporary legal visas to live with her. The family settled in Wardensville, W.Va., and Mrs. Old and her daughter became American citizens.
After Michael applied to become a permanent resident, months dragged by while the immigration service processed his petition. By the time he was called in for an interview, he had turned 21. Immigration officers told him he was no longer eligible for a child visa and ordered him to leave the country.
“Just because it took them so long to process a piece of paper is why we are being torn apart,” said Mr. Old, a computer system administrator. Mrs. Old said she had sold her home in England and that her son had no family to return to there.
Under the Senate bill, all adult children like Michael, who is now 24, would not be eligible to join their parents, even if the parents were American citizens. “To me, Michael will always be my child, my son, no matter how many years you put on him,” Mrs. Old said.
Immigrant reform could prove taxing for business
Chicken farmer Lucious Adkins doesn't see how he could stay in business if Congress passes an immigration-reform bill that would require his immigrant workers to go home for a year.
"I can't go six months without growing a chicken. We'll be out of business when they come back," said Adkins, who owns one of the biggest chicken farms in Georgia and serves as president of the United Poultry Growers Association.
U.S. businesses reliant on immigrants have long pushed for reforms to address their need for labor, but many at both ends of the spectrum complain that the proposal endorsed by Senate leaders and President Bush would prove too disruptive and make it too hard for them find the workers they need.
Nationwide, industries such as carpet manufacturing, farming, poultry processing, meatpacking, construction, restaurants and hotels depend heavily on low- or unskilled illegal immigrants. Technology companies, meanwhile, increasingly look outside the U.S. to find engineers, programmers and other highly skilled workers, who are here legally, mostly on temporary work visas.
Among other things, the legislation would grant legal status to the estimated
12 million illegal immigrants already in the U.S., allowing them to seek permanent legal residency or citizenship. They would be subject to a $5,000 fee and fines, and the heads of households would have to return to their country of origin temporarily.
The reforms also call for a guest-worker program that would issue some 400,000 visas a year for mostly low-skill immigrants seeking employment for two years.
Sean McHugh, spokesman for the Greeley, Colo.-based meatpacking giant Swift & Co., said he supports many of the reforms but worries that the measure will cause high turnover.
"Our needs are year-round and we do invest substantial amount of time and money in training a new hire, so we obviously prefer to keep them on the payroll rather than lose them," he said.
Swift was hit with big immigration raids Dec. 12 at its plants in six states. In all, authorities arrested nearly 1,300 suspected illegal immigrants.
Many high-tech companies that routinely face shortages of skilled workers said the reform measure could actually make it tougher to find employees with the specific skills and experience they need in the fast- changing high-tech world.
High-tech companies now recruit specific foreigners who possess the precise skills they need. These foreigners are issued what are called H1-B visas.
The reform measure would instead create a point system that rewards people with advanced degrees and special skills. Some high-tech companies complain that this would give them less control over the selection process. They also say that the government needs to make more H1-B visas available to highly educated professionals.
Compete America, which represents a number of major U.S. companies, including Google, Intel and Microsoft, opposes the revamped guidelines for H1-B visas.
"This could be a disaster for U.S. competitiveness," said Vivek Wadhwa, an India-born founder of two tech startups in North Carolina's Research Triangle. "We may get more cheap labor, but we're going to lose the engineers and scientists that we need to keep our global edge."
Some businesses also worry about a provision that would require employers to verify workers' immigration status using a new computer database.
The National Association of Home Builders, which lobbies on behalf of construction companies, called the measure "unwieldy and unworkable."
The bill "would do irreparable harm to America's small businesses, which have generated the lion's share of new job growth in the economy," said Jerry Howard, the organization's executive vice president and chief executive.
The bill ``would do irreparable harm to America's small businesses, which have generated the lion's share of new job growth in the economy,'' said Jerry Howard, the organization's executive vice president and chief executive.
Immigrant group goes door-to-door for petition
Leaders from several Central Florida immigrant advocacy groups joined dozens of local residents Wednesday evening to rally Congress to embrace a comprehensive reform package that they say should "put families first."
John Barry, a local immigration attorney who offers pro bono services for organizations such as the Florida Immigrant Coalition, addressed the group as it gathered at the Bravo Supermarket at the corner of Colonial Drive and Semoran Boulevard in Orlando.
"It is not fair for the descendants of other immigrants to make it illegal for others to come," he said. "We say no to any comprehensive reform that does not include the automatic legalization of families."
After about 30 minutes of speeches and prayer, the participants started fanning out to nearby neighborhoods in the Colonialtown, Azalea Park and Conway areas to knock on doors and get signatures for a petition that would send their message directly to leaders in Washington.
Wednesday's event was sponsored by the Florida Immigrant Coalition, ACORN, Democracia Ahora and the Services Employees International Union.
As it debates immigration reform, the Senate voted Wednesday to slash the number of foreign workers who could come to the U.S. on temporary visas as part of a broad bipartisan immigration bill.
A new guest worker program would be capped at 200,000 a year under the proposal, which passed 74-24 over strong opposition by the Bush administration.
Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said the change, proposed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., would interfere with a "central component" of the White House-backed immigration measure. That plan provided for 400,000 worker visas annually, plus an option to increase that number to 600,000 if market conditions demand it.
"The Bingaman amendment would eliminate this critical flexibility and cut the size of the temporary worker program in half," Gutierrez said in a statement.
His comments came as the administration urged the Senate to approve the immigration legislation despite fresh criticism from presidential hopefuls and lawmakers in both parties.
"The proposal offers a much-needed solution for our nation's broken immigration system," the White House budget office said in a statement. "This proposal would deliver an immigration system that is secure, productive, orderly and fair."
The measure would grant an estimated 12 million unlawful immigrants quick legal status, toughen border security. It also would create a new workplace verification system to bar undocumented workers from getting jobs.
It would set up a point system for future immigration applicants that would place less emphasis on family connections and more on education and skills in demand by U.S. businesses.
U.S. Senate cuts guest worker quota in new immigration reform plan
WASHINGTON, May 24 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Senate has passed an amendment to cut in half the number of guest workers who would be allowed into the United States under an immigration reform plan backed by the White House, CNN reported on Thursday.
The amendment, passed on a 74-24 vote on Wednesday night, was the first major change to a "grand bargain" unveiled last week and sent to the Senate floor for debate on Monday.
Senators voted to reduce the number of guest workers that would be allowed into the country from 400,000 to 200,000.
Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the leading advocate of the amendment, said 200,000 guest workers would be "plenty."
But Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania said the 400,000 figure was chosen as a result of "very careful analysis and consideration."
The immigration bill is the result of a deal struck after nearly three months of bipartisan talks and endorsed by the White House last week.
It plans to offer an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants now in the country a path to citizenship, boosting border controls and establishing a guest-worker program that would grant foreign workers a two-year residency.
Conservative critics have blasted it as "amnesty" for illegal immigrants, while liberals have raised concerns that the guest-worker program would create a permanent underclass.
Bingaman's amendment was the second of two Democratic proposals aimed at drastically altering the bipartisan "grand compromise" on immigration reform.
The first, which would have eliminated the guest worker program as a whole, was voted down on Tuesday.
Immigration fact: U.S. is not flooded with foreign workers
If we're going to debate immigration, let's at least get our facts right. Contrary to heated rhetoric coming from both the left and right, we're not being flooded with foreign-born residents.
The annual inflow of immigrants, legal and illegal, amounts to about five people for every 1,000 U.S. residents. The rate was twice as high in the early years of the 20th century.
Do we need to fix our immigration laws? Yes. But does the primary focus need to be on keeping unwanted people out? Emphatically, no.
Major American industries like agriculture, construction and information technology would shrink without ready access to immigrant workers. As Congress debates immigration reform, its primary goal should be to provide the work force our economy needs.
To that end, it's encouraging to see Democratic leaders reach a compromise with President Bush that includes a path to citizenship for some people who are in the country illegally. The compromise bill also includes an increase in the number of visas for skilled workers, and it creates a "points" system that would favor immigrants with education and job skills.
Business groups, though, are already griping about the bill. Compete America, a coalition that includes companies from Altria and Coca-Cola to Google and Microsoft, complains that the number of H1B visas for skilled workers still won't be enough, and that the points system "will take key personnel decision-making out of the hands of U.S. employers."
In short, companies would rather recruit the workers they want, not have to choose among those the government lets in. The high-tech folks point out that a majority of U.S. advanced degrees in science, math and engineering are earned by foreigners, and that immigration quotas are too narrow to let those valuable graduates stay in this country.
Lower-tech industries aren't satisfied either. The Associated General Contractors of America, a trade group for the construction industry, says it's concerned about the immigration bill's enforcement provisions, which would require companies to check workers' records against a giant government database.
It sounds cumbersome, especially for an industry where time is money. "On a construction job, you can't wait around for weeks or even several days to get your workers cleared," says Ken Simonson, the AGC's chief economist. "They're looking at implementing some streamlined verification procedure, but that remains a hypothetical at this point. We're very concerned about the details and the expense."
The contractors also are worried about the idea of requiring illegal workers, if they want a path to legitimacy, to leave the country and then apply to come back. Simonson said the construction industry likes the idea of "greater certainty" about immigrants' legal status, but fears a disruption in business if large numbers of workers are forced to leave temporarily.
Doing without immigrants simply isn't an option. "We've been concerned for years about there not being enough workers entering construction and the large numbers approaching retirement age," Simonson said. "We certainly see immigration as an important part of the solution."
So, after we get our facts straight, let's acknowledge one thing: We need hard-working people from other parts of the world. We need them to build our houses, harvest our crops, design our new high-tech devices.
Yes, we should enforce our immigration laws. But first we need to write laws that meet the needs of a 21st-century economy.
Mayday NYC 2007 Immigration Protest