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first_imgWASHINGTON – The No. 2 Republican in the Senate made an all-out pitch for support of a comprehensive immigration bill Wednesday as the Senate voted to reduce the size of a proposed guest-worker program, infuriating employers. The Republican, Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, was not part of the bipartisan group of 12 senators who negotiated the “grand bargain” on immigration with the White House. But on Wednesday, Lott defended the deal, which has come under heavy fire from the right and the left. “Is the current situation in America with legal and illegal immigration intolerable and unacceptable?” Lott asked. “Yes. Everybody would agree. Is this bill better than the current law? Without a doubt, yes. Are we going to have another opportunity to do this better next year or the next year? The answer is no. We’ve got to do it. We’ve got to do it as good as we can. We’ve got to do it right now. “The only thing that’s unacceptable is to do nothing,” said Lott, the Senate minority whip. Lawmakers of both parties said they had been flooded with telephone calls from constituents complaining about a provision of the bill that would offer legal status to most of the nation’s 12 million illegal immigrants. “The American people are not buying it,” said Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky. Many Democrats are upset with other parts of the bill that would establish the temporary-worker program and a new merit-based system for awarding permanent-residence visas, or green cards. The point system would give more weight to job skills and education and less to family ties. Under the guest-worker program, as originally proposed, 400,000 foreign workers could have come to the United States each year on two-year visas, and the number could have increased to 600,000 in response to the demand from employers. By a vote of 74-24, the Senate approved an amendment cutting the annual limit on temporary workers to 200,000. Democrats and labor unions said the temporary workers could be easily exploited and would adversely affect the wages of American workers. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who proposed the lower limit, said he doubts that the temporary workers would leave when their visas expired. And he said the bill is flawed because it provides no opportunity for them to become lawful permanent residents or citizens. “The guest-worker program is unproven and untested, and I’m very concerned what it will do to wages in our country,” Bingaman said. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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