Industry association leaders roundly praised the U.S. Senate for passing legislation that would overhaul the country’s flawed immigration system.
Senators passed the bipartisan measure known as “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013,” or S.744, by a vote of 68 to 32 Thursday.
In addition to strengthening border security, the measure would provide an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants living and working in the United States with a pathway to legal status and citizenship. Under the bill, it would take about a decade for undocumented immigrants to get a green card and then another three years to achieve citizenship. They would also have to pay a fine and back taxes, and pass a background check.
In addition, the legislation would establish a national employment verification system — known as E-Verify — that would help to prevent identity theft and curtail the hiring of illegal workers.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate about 1.4 illegal immigrants work in the U.S. foodservice industry, which employs more than 13 million workers.
Industry associations were quick to voice their support of the legislation — while acknowledging that it’s not perfect as it stands.
“We are pleased that an immigration bill passed the Senate today with bipartisan support,” said Steve Caldeira, president and chief executive of the International Franchise Association. “The [Act] works to address many of the current and future labor needs of our businesses while offering opportunity to improve upon the bill in some key areas, such as a better E-Verify program and strengthened w-visa language, in a conference committee.”
Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive of the National Restaurant Association, said, “Today’s vote was a critical step. America’s restaurants support common-sense immigration reform that meets three key priorities: a clear path to legalization, national implementation of the E-Verify employee verification system that preempts inconsistent state mandates, and increased border security that won’t harm legal travel and tourism. We will continue to work with members of both chambers to advocate for policies that will allow the restaurant industry to continue its role as a leading jobs creator.”
The NRA said it has been involved in the construction and review of the immigration bill. Scott DeFife, executive vice president for the NRA’s policy and government affairs, said the association “has advocated for years on the need for meaningful immigration reform, and we commend the Senate on its work to address these important issues.”
DeFife added that the NRA also has been working with House of Representatives members on the E-Verify issue and has backed the “Legal Workforce Act” as a model employment verification system.
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Rob Green, executive director of the National Council of Chain Restaurants, commended the Senate for passing the legislation. “NCCR will continue to work to ensure that important improvements are made to the bill as the legislative process continues,” he said. “In particular, NCCR and our members have reservations about specific elements of the employment verification framework adopted by the Senate. We will continue to work with our members and coalition partners to ensure that the bill is furthered strengthened in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The IFA also has some reservations, Caldeira noted. While the organization welcomes a federal E-Verify system, he said, “We believe stronger E-Verify language … should ultimately be included in a final comprehensive immigration reform law, given it would provide stronger protections to employers in the hiring process.”
David French, senior vice president of government relations for the National Retail Association, the parent of the NCCR, praised the bill’s passage, but echoed other association leaders’ concerns about E-Verify, the federal government’s employment verification system.
“While the bill moves to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration, NRF will continue to look for additional opportunities to improve and strengthen the bill, especially in regard to employer verification or E-Verify provisions. Retailers and the business community alike need a bill that is flexible and workable within their business models.”
But despite widespread support, the legislation is expected to encounter serious headwinds when it is taken up in the U.S. House of Representatives. Speaker of the House John Boehner has said he will not bring a bill up for a vote that doesn’t have majority support from Republicans, who control the House. Instead, he said it would focus on a House-written bill that addresses immigration reform piecemeal.
President Barack Obama has called for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.
The basic immigration legislation was introduced earlier this year  by a bipartisan group of senators known as the “Gang of Eight.” They are Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.