Byline: Joyce Barrett

WASHINGTON — The Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees has joined an odd alliance of manufacturer, business and Christian groups in attempting to kill part of a controversial immigration bill to be considered today by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Alan Simpson (R., Wyo.), would reform laws on legal and illegal immigration.
The legislation and its proposed amendments have implications for foreign garment workers and their families as well as models and others who are considered to have special skills.
UNITE immigration project director Muzassar Chishti said the union is opposing provisions dealing with legal immigration, primarily because Simpson’s bill would reduce the number of visas granted per year that permit family members of U.S. workers to immigrate.
Many of UNITE’s members are immigrants and are dependent on the visas so their families can move to the U.S., he said. Instead, UNITE wants the committee to consider only provisions that would beef up border security against illegal immigration, establish a border fee, institute a national system to verify the immigrant status of job applicants and deny entitlement benefits to illegal immigrants.
In a Capitol Hill press conference Tuesday, the Clinton administration dipped into the boiling pot and endorsed amendments being prepared by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.), that would toughen prohibitions against employers hiring immigrants over domestic workers. Under Kennedy’s plan, it would be illegal for employers to replace qualified American workers with foreign ones; employers would be required to recruit U.S. workers first; employers who bring in foreign workers would be required to contribute to a job-training fund for U.S. workers, and temporary worker visas would be reduced from six to three years.
Also, Kennedy would require that Congress provide funding for 200 additional labor inspectors.
“This is a matter of fairness,” said Labor Secretary Robert Reich. “U.S. immigration policy has reached a crossroads, and we have to decide whether to protect workers from unfair employers.”
In the face of intense business opposition, Simpson already has relented and struck from the bill provisions that would make it tougher for businesses to import foreign workers with special job skills. Simpson initially proposed that the number of temporary work visas be reduced from 140,000 to 90,000 slots yearly. This category includes H-1B visas, which are given to foreign workers recruited for their skills. About 65,000 H-1B visas are issued yearly, and about 1.2 percent of those go to fashion models who are granted the coveted visas because they are classified as possessing “distinguished merit and ability.” The number of H-1B visas would not be affected by Simpson’s proposed cut.
Today is likely to be the first of several days of consideration by the Judiciary Committee. Deliberations are expected to continue through next week.
— Fairchild News Service

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