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Behind-the-scenes deal pushes immigration reform closer to reality

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In 2011, the US admitted more than 2 million temporary workers, a figure that swells to more than 3 million when the workers’ families are included, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Roughly half of those, ranging from seasonal agricultural workers to nurses to electrical engineers, could be governed by a new flexible-visa regime.

But deciding which low skilled workers would have an opportunity to obtain permanent residency or, eventually, citizenship, will be a key debate. The groups also have not come to an accord on high-skilled workers.

Liberal groups were supportive of the agreement.

“We salute the notion of using real world data about labor markets and demographics to determine the future flow of employment-based immigrants and temporary foreign workers,” said Ross Eisenbrey, a vice president and economist at EPI, in an e-mailed statement. “This is an important step forward for achieving comprehensive immigration reform.”

Critics say that fine-tuning such a system is beyond the reach of any government agency.

“It is over-ambitious, but it’s more than that,” Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, told the Monitor earlier this month. “It’s based on an idea that we can manage government by experts. It just doesn’t work. Everybody who has tried it everywhere crashes and burns.”

The AFL-CIO and Chamber statement does not explicitly put the commission in control of visa levels, offering that such a body would be able to “advise” on such issues. The ideal system would “automatically” adjust to economic changes, according to the principles released Thursday.

“We are now in the middle – not the end – of this process,” the groups’ statement concludes, “and we pledge to continue to work together and with our allies and our representatives on Capitol Hill to finalize a solution that is in the interest of this country we all love.”

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