WASHINGTON (AP) _ Efforts to limit or scrap a temporary worker program will provide the first test of a wide-ranging immigration bill, Senate leaders said Tuesday as lawmakers began tackling a long list of proposed amendments.
The first, by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., would strike a provision to grant 400,000 visas annually to temporary immigrant workers.
Under a bill drafted by a bipartisan group and backed by the White House, the workers could stay for as many as three two-year stints, provided they leave the United States between each stay. Many of the visa holders would be unskilled, nonagricultural workers in areas such as construction, landscaping and meatpacking.
The temporary worker plan has come under attack from several fronts. Many labor unions say it would keep wages low and create a class of abused foreign workers. Some business groups call the leave-and-return element unworkable.
``It is just a fiction that these are jobs Americans aren't willing to do,'' Dorgan said. ``The fact is that the overwhelming majority of these jobs are currently done by Americans. The main reason that big corporations want a guest worker program is that it will drive down U.S. wages.''
If Dorgan's amendment fails, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., plans to offer an amendment to slash the number of annual visas available for temporary workers to 200,000.
Senate leaders said Democrats and Republicans will offer amendments on an alternating basis, a process expected to last all week and resume after next week's Memorial Day recess.
Once Dorgan's amendment is accepted or rejected, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., plans to offer an amendment providing mandatory prison sentences for foreigners caught crossing the border illegally.
The immigration bill calls for tightening border security, granting legal status to nearly all the estimated 12 million undocumented workers, and increasing penalties for employers who hire illegal workers.
It would create a point system for future immigration applicants that would place less emphasis on family connections and greater emphasis on education and skills in demand by U.S. businesses.