US trade unions have warned that the immigration bill going through Congress falls way short of expectations.
The strength of opposition has seen the US Senate on Tuesday decide to delay voting on the controversial bill.
Last week, President George W Bush and a bipartisan group of senators crafted a compromise version of the bill that would also strengthen border controls.
Bush, who has made immigration reform one of his priorities, has said he wants to see new legislation in place by the end of this year.
Democrat leaders had originally intended to try to pass the bill this week but agreed to extend the deadline to June, giving more time for the proposals to be thrashed out.
‘This country deserves it,’ Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid said.
The Senate will now debate the bill this week and return to it after a week-long holiday.
The proposal needs to be passed by both houses of Congress to become law.
The House of Representatives is expected to try to frame its own legislation in July.
Democrats argue that the bill would create ‘a tough but fair path to citizenship’ for immigrants.
Under the proposed new Senate bill, illegal immigrants could seek a renewable ‘Z visa’ after paying a $5,000 (£2,530) fine.
They could ultimately be placed on the path to permanent residency, but this could take several years.
And to start with, heads of household would have to return to their home country first to file the visa application, with no guarantee they will be successful.
The bill also sets out a ‘points system’ that emphasises immigrants’ education, language and job skills over family connections in awarding green cards.
The bill also establishes a two-year temporary guest worker visa.
Trade unions and migrant groups say the plan would limit the right of legal immigrants to be joined by their families.
They have also warned that the guest worker proposal will deny temporary workers the right to apply for permanent residency.
None of the proposed measures would not come into force until 18,000 new border guards are deployed, the fence with Mexico reinforced and hi-tech surveillance in place.
A United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Statement on the ‘Immigration Deal’ last Thursday said: ‘The UFCW is committed to working with all members of Congress on achieving meaningful immigration reform that is consistent with fundamental American values, protects all workers, provides immigrants an opportunity to fully participate in our democratic system and achieve the American dream.
‘While today’s deal reached on immigration provides an opening for comprehensive legislation on this critical issue, it has a long way to go before it can provide meaningful reform.
‘Too many aspects of the deal fail to live up to fundamental American principles of democracy and fairness.
‘We are a nation of inclusion – guestworker programs would only turn permanent jobs into temporary ones, create an underclass of exploited workers, and lower workplace standards for all workers.
‘We are a nation that values families – to create a point-system that would keep families apart or favour one family ahead of others undermines basic fairness and community stability.
‘We are a nation of opportunity – to create a system that favours one class of workers ahead of other workers closes the door to the American dream for millions of hard-working but less-skilled immigrants.
‘Any legislation that departs from these fundamental values will only exacerbate the systemic problems of our current immigration system.
US trade union federation AFL-CIO President John J Sweeney issued the following statement on the ‘New Immigration Deal’, last Friday.
He said: ‘Unfortunately, the immigration deal announced today does not address the roots of the immigration crisis.
‘And it abandons long-standing US policy favouring the reunification of families and protecting workers by limiting the size and the scope of guestworker programs – which frequently amount to virtual servitude, where workers’ fates are tied to their employers and their workplace rights are impossible to exercise.
‘The proposal unveiled today includes a massive guestworker program that would allow employers to import hundreds of thousands of temporary workers every year to perform permanent jobs throughout the economy.
‘Without a real path to legalisation, the program will exclude millions of workers and thus ensure that America will have two classes of workers, only one of which can exercise workplace rights.
‘As long as this two-tiered system exists, all workers will suffer because employers will have available a ready pool of labour they can exploit to drive down wages, benefits, health and safety protections and other workplace standards.
‘We intend to work with our allies in Congress and in the immigrant community to pass comprehensive immigration reform that will protect all workers in a humane and just manner.’
Amid negotiations between Congress and the White House, the Justice Department stepped up the arrest and deportation of undocumented workers.
Last week church leaders and mayors came to Capitol Hill demanding a hearing.
That didn’t happen, so instead they staged a news conference before a panel of child welfare and women’s rights groups.
Sandra Cruz from Cape Verde, off the West African coast, was among 300 immigrants arrested during a raid on a garment factory in New Bedford, Massachussets, last March.
Addressing the panel while cradling her 15-month-old daughter, Cruz said she was handcuffed and flown to a detention centre in El Paso, Texas.
She said: ‘While I was in Texas, I didn’t know anything about my daughter because I couldn’t talk to anyone.’
Several others described painful separations from children.
Lexiere Antonio, who was also arrested in the New Bedford raid, along with his wife, said he doesn’t think Americans appreciate the contributions of illegal immigrants.
He stressed: ‘We were exploited every day in that factory, and still we moved this country forward.’
Now he and his wife face deportation.
He added: ‘I say farewell with pain in my heart, but with the same hope that I came to this country with – to make sure my wife and my son have a better future.’
Greeley, Colorado, Mayor Tom Selders said a December raid on a Swift & Company meat packing plant left about 200 families in his city with no income.
He told the news conference: ‘Approximately $200,000 generously donated by local churches, Swift & Company, and individuals was distributed to help families pay for rent, food and utilities.
‘To this day, needs continue for many of these people but the money has run out.’
In and around Richmond, California, 119 people were arrested in January in a series of raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Richmond Mayor Gail McLaughlin said that while ICE authorities characterised those arrested as ‘criminals and gang bangers’, only 18 had criminal convictions.
She said: ‘I was shocked and disgusted.
‘The overwhelming majority of their sweeps arrested hard-working men, mothers and school children.’