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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pressure on Congress Rises for Immigration Reforms

WASHINGTON -- An unlikely mix of Hispanics, farmers and high-tech businesses has stepped up pressure on Congress to overhaul U.S. immigration laws, boosting prospects for a bill that would allow more foreign workers into the country.

Last year, the Republican-led House of Representatives derailed an immigration bill because it would have given a path to citizenship for those who entered the country illegally.

But supporters say chances are good that the new, Democratic-led Congress will pass some form of immigration bill. President George W. Bush is likely to renew his call for broad immigration legislation, including a guest worker program, in his State of the Union address Tuesday.

"I think prospects are good," Assistant Senate Majority Leader Richard Durbin of Illinois said.

Pressure to allow in more workers has been mounting since Congress passed a law in September to fund hundreds of miles of new fences along the border with Mexico and a series of raids against illegal workers last month by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

On Jan. 8, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Hispanic Federation asked Democratic leaders to take action on immigration within 100 days, saying the raids "stirred further emotion and fear" in the Hispanic communities.

Swift and Co., whose meatpacking plant was raided Dec. 12, said this month that the raid could cost the company as much as $30 million.

And farm groups said farmers faced millions of dollars in losses this year if a crackdown against illegal immigration were to continue without a balancing program to bring in workers legally.

"There is a sense of urgency here," said Senator Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican who, along with California Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, introduced a bill that would create a special program for illegal farm workers to adjust their status.

U.S. companies are also clamoring for more H1B visas to allow foreign software engineers and other skilled workers into the country.

The 65,000 visas allotted for 2007 were taken by the end of May last year, months before the end of the fiscal year in September, said Jack Krumholtz, the head of Microsoft's government affairs office. It is also difficult to get permanent U.S. residency for foreign workers who would like to stay, he said.

"This is becoming for high-tech companies a huge retention issue," Krumholtz said. "We will start to see highly valued tech employees emigrate back to their home countries."