The American Hotel & Lodging Association has praised the U.S. Senate for passing historic immigration reform legislation.The bill, S. 2611, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 by Senators Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) restructures the nation’s immigration laws to meet the dual goals of border and economic security.
“We thank the sponsors of this bill and the tremendous leadership of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for shepherding this crucial piece of legislation through the process,” said AH&LA Executive Vice President for Public Policy Marlene Colucci. “As with any complex issue, compromise is necessary and although the bill passed by the Senate is not perfect, it does address our primary concerns. It bolsters national security and allows employers to reach across the borders when absolutely necessary to fill positions for which Americans cannot be found.”
“As the President has said, we are nation of immigrants,” said Colucci. “The lodging industry employs 1.8 million people, the vast majority of whom are Americans. We also provide valuable jobs to thousands of legal immigrants who have contributed greatly to the success of our dynamic industry and our society as well. Many of these workers have risen to management positions, providing a better life for themselves and their families.”
Temporary guest workers are also critical to the operations of many hotels and their full-time American employees, especially during peak travel seasons, Colucci said. “The Senate bill establishes a stringent but realistic guest worker program that would allow foreign-born workers into the United States to fill jobs when U.S. workers are not available. We look forward to working with the House-Senate Conference Committee to send a bill to the President as quickly as possible.”
“National security is our first concern,” said Stevan Porter, president of the Americas region of InterContinental Hotels Group and chair of AH&LA’s Government Affairs Committee. “However, overly strict border control measures that keep out legitimate visitors are detrimental to the U.S. travel and tourism industry. As the Senate proved today, being a welcoming nation while also protecting our borders is not only possible, it is necessary.”
AH&LA Chairman Joseph R. Kane, Jr., CHA, said that rising occupancy rates and sustained economic growth in the lodging sector, combined with near full-employment, have led to a severe labor shortage. “Even the most cautious economic forecasts predict that the lodging industry will need an additional 300,000 employees over the next eight years. I applaud the Senate for passing this important bill and urge the House-Senate Conference Committee to preserve the guest worker program included in the Senate bill.” Kane is group president of Cendant Hotel Group and president/CEO of Days Inns Worldwide, Inc.
“We appreciate the time and energy the President and the Senate have devoted to this complicated issue,” said Matthew J. Hart, president and chief operating officer of Hilton Hotels Corporation. “A comprehensive, long-term solution is the only way to solve this critical issue.”
The Senate bill also includes two provisions of great importance to the lodging industry. The bill extends access to temporary seasonal workers for an additional three years, to September 30, 2009. It also extends the deadline for implementing the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative by 17 months, to June 1, 2009.