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Immigration Reform Dealt a Setback as Talks Hit Impasse

Congressman's departure from the House committee in charge of immigration reform leaves the future of the reform bill uncertain.

The hopes of passing an immigration reform bill this year suffered a serious setback June 5 when Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, walked away from his role in the House of Representatives’ bipartisan committee responsible for developing a comprehensive immigration reform plan.

According to a CNN report, Labrador left the “Gang of Eight” committee regarding policy disagreements stemming from a provision involving health care for undocumented workers. The report said Labrador walked away when the bipartisan group was close to finalizing its legislation on the issue.

The representative had this to say in a statement released on his website:

“I have tremendous respect for the members of the bipartisan group who have been working with me to fix our broken immigration system. But after today’s meeting, the framework of the bill has changed in a way that I can no longer support. Like most Americans, I believe that health care is first and foremost a personal responsibility. While I will no longer be part of the bipartisan ‘Group of Eight’ House negotiators, I will not abandon my efforts to modernize our broken immigration system by securing our borders and creating a workable guest worker program. I remain hopeful that the House can pass a bill around these principles and I will keep fighting to make it happen.”

Labrador’s departure is not entirely unexpected, though, as he was close to leaving the House committee two weeks ago when the group had difficultly compromising on how to cover health care costs for immigrant workers, according to the report.

For the past few weeks, the House committee has been debating immigration reform legislation proposed by the Senate’s own bipartisan “Gang of Eight.” Many representatives were unhappy the Senate’s bill, criticizing the proposed bill’s border security measures as too weak and objecting to a proposed path to citizenship for undocumented workers.

The impasse could frustrate employers and the public alike. According to a Pew Research poll taken in May, 73 percent of Americans believe “There should be a way for those who meet certain requirements to stay in the country legally.”

Similarly, a Fox News poll shows 78 percent of Americans favor “allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the country and eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship as long as they meet certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check.”

Among the myriad provisions proposed by the Senate in its nearly 1,000-page bill, a few are of particular interest to employers—such as an increase in the minimum number of H-1B visas available in a given year from 65,000 to 110,000; universal use of e-Verify; and the creation of a new “W” visa that would allow low-skilled laborers an easier pathway of legal immigration to the U.S.

Jorge Lopez, co-chair of the global mobility and immigration practice at law firm Littler Mendelson, says Congress was “finally making an immigration bill meet our societal needs.” The bill would have addressed glaring employment vacancies in the tech industry, where an estimated 600,000 STEM-related jobs were left unfilled in 2012.

By increasing the amount of H-1B visas available each year, employers who require highly skilled employees would have an easier time finding them. Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was a strong supporter of this provision as it sought to help the tech sector hire much-needed workers.

However, with the House committee responsible for Immigration Reform apparently hitting an impasse, the future of any reform in the near future is uncertain—especially with House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, stating he wouldn’t bring the legislation to vote if it were finalized.

Immigration reform’s future remains unclear, according to Ronald Shapiro, founder and principal partner at the Shapiro Law Group in Northbrook, Illinois, who says he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the bill. “Until the fat lady sings, it’s not over,” he added.

Max Mihelich is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Mihelich on Twitter at @workforcemax.