Opposition to a compromise immigration overhaul grew on Monday, with labour unions and Hispanic groups saying the deal brokered by leading US senators and the White House was bad for workers, families and employers.
The League of United Latin American Citizens, one of the country's oldest and largest Hispanic groups, said it opposed the plan's limits on family-based immigration. A labour union and another Hispanic group said they would work to change the proposed law as it moves through Congress.
The opposition emerged as the Senate began debating the compromise plan, brokered in closed-door talks between White House officials and about a dozen Republican and Democratic senators.
The measure would combine tough new border security and workplace enforcement measures with a temporary worker program and a plan to legalise an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country before January 2007.
In addition to limits on family-based immigration, the citizens league said it also opposed the temporary worker program because it would require labourers to return home for a year after each two-year work period. Temporary workers would be allowed a total of three two-year visas.
"This bill will dehumanise workers, short-change employers and lead to wide-spread undocumented immigration as many workers inevitably overstay their visas rather than return home," the group's president, Rosa Rosales, said in a statement.
The AFL-CIO plans a news conference on Tuesday with civil rights and Hispanic groups to outline their concerns about the guest worker program, new limits on family-based immigration and a proposed new merit-based system for future immigrants.
Reducing temporary workers
The Service Employees International Union plans to join that news conference, but officials said they hoped to work with lawmakers to change the bill as it moves through the Senate and eventually the US House of Representatives.
Eliseo Medina, executive vice president of the SEIU, said requiring immigrants to return home to apply for permanent residence was unworkable. The union, which has about 1.8 million members, also wants more labour protections for guest workers and a path to citizenship.
"We are going to be evaluating every step of the way and at some point we will see what the final package looks like," he said in an interview.
National Council of La Raza Vice President Cecilia Munoz said her group would try to reshape the bill. "It is important that we get a good bill over the finish line," she said.
Dozens of amendments are expected and it is unclear whether the compromise will remain intact as it works its way through the Senate.
One of the first amendments will be aimed at reducing the number of visas available for temporary workers each year from 400,000 to 200,000. The amendment is being offered by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat.
The bill also faces stiff opposition from conservative Republicans who see it as an amnesty that rewards illegal immigrants who broke US laws.
"This bill is compromising to the country's economy, national security and very foundation of a democracy rooted in the rule of law," said Senator Jim Bunning, a Kentucky Republican.
"Each low-skilled immigrant household that gets amnesty costs the American taxpayers nearly $20,000 each year if we consider only the illegal aliens given amnesty," he said.