By ERICA WERNER
WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ Business leaders and labor union officials are delving into high-stakes negotiations over a particularly contentious element of immigration reform â¿¿ a guest worker program to ensure future immigrants come here legally.
The issue has traditionally divided labor and business. Labor groups have looked askance on bringing in numerous low-wage workers, while that's an outcome businesses have favored.
The Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO have been tasked by Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York with reaching a deal, within weeks, that Schumer and a bipartisan Senate group on immigration could incorporate into legislation now taking shape, officials say.
Both sides appear hopeful, although Schumer and others say the issue scuttled the last attempt at a comprehensive overhaul of immigration law in 2007.
This time around, officials involved hope for a better result, in part because all involved see the clear necessity of addressing what's called "future flow" â¿¿ the influx of migrants to the U.S. that's sure to come whether or not Congress passes an immigration bill.
If Congress does act to provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in this country, it's just as important to deal with future immigration, advocates say. Otherwise, some time from now the country will once again find itself home to many more illegal immigrants.
"We're at a point where we have to take that issue really seriously and think about what kind of a system do we want to have in place so that 10 years from now, 15 years from now, we're not in the same situation," said Ana Avendano, assistant to the AFL-CIO president for immigration and community action.
The Chamber of Commerce "views the existence of a temporary worker program as vital to a comprehensive immigration bill," spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes said in a statement.