In a sign of the growing support for action on immigration, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., one of a number of Republicans who've recently softened their opposition to eventual citizenship for some illegal immigrants, issued a statement saying he was encouraged "that two groups often on opposite sides of the aisle are serious about putting politics aside and finding solutions.''
Business and labor have long been at odds over any temporary worker program, with business groups wanting more workers and labor groups concerned about worker protections and that any large-scale program that could displace American workers. The issue helped sink the last congressional attempt at rewriting the nation's immigration laws, in 2007, which was partly why Schumer and Graham asked Chamber President Tom Donohue and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to try to forge an accord that Senate negotiators could include in legislation they hope to complete by next month.
Donohue and Trumka issued a joint statement that said, in part, "The fact that business and labor can come together to negotiate in good faith over contentious issues should be a signal to Congress and the American people that support for immigration reform is widespread and growing, and is important to our economy and our society.''
The principles announced Thursday make clear that both sides have given ground. Business will get a temporary worker program, something labor long opposed, and labor will see creation of a government entity that describes labor market needs, instead of leaving that task to employers themselves.
Various thorny issues remain, including how many new visas would be provided under the new program and what kind of pay and protections workers would get.
The Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO have taken the lead in negotiations that have also included other business associations and labor unions. Senators and their aides are expected to play a larger role in the talks.
The U.S. already has several temporary worker programs, but they don't work well and experts say a large proportion of migrant workers in agricultural and other low-skill fields like landscaping or housekeeping are in the U.S. illegally.