Despite disagreements over the fine print, small-business groups are urging Congress to revive a controversial immigration-reform bill that collapsed in the Senate last week.
The bill, which would have created a temporary guest-worker program and offered a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, fell short of the 60 votes needed to proceed on Thursday. Although backed by the White House, the bill faces opposition from Senate Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who called on the president to rally support for the bill among Republicans, said he would bring the legislation back to the Senate floor "as soon as enough Republicans are ready to join us in moving forward on a bill to fix our broken immigration system."
On Monday, President Bush said he had discussed strategies to revive the bill with key senators, including Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). Later this week, he is expected to lobby support for the effort on Capitol Hill.
Several business groups, which had backed the overall effort even as they opposed various aspects of the bill, were holding out hope that the legislation could be reintroduced as early as this week.
"We view this as a serious issue that calls for government action," said Michael Donohue, a spokesman for the National Federation of Independent Business, a Washington-based small-business lobby with more than 600,000 members. "Clearly, this was a work in progress and the process needs to move forward."
Last week, Donohue's group joined a coalition of a half dozen small-business policy and trade associations in pressing the Senate to take up the bill in good faith, including the National Restaurant Association, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"The contours of a sound compromise are there, addressing all the major elements needed by the business community," the group said in a letter to Congress.
Donohue said an open debate will help fine tune many of the measures in the bill that had smaller employers concerned, including the creation of a national employee verification system and what he described as "amnesty for illegal workers."
"Our members have serious concerns with many of the regulatory aspects of the bill, and these need to be worked out," Donahue said.
A survey last year showed the group's members evenly split on the issue of amnesty for illegal workers, while the majority supported increasing penalties for employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants. Roughly half supported admitting foreign nationals to fill skilled jobs where labor shortages exist, and 62 percent supported a temporary worker program.
According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, as many as 18.9 million new jobs will be created by 2014, with only 3 million native-born workers to fill them.
The House is expected to take up immigration reform later this year.