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 Hotel  Industry Leaders Urge Senate to Pass Historic Immigration Bill
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Hoteliers Seek Adequate Guest Worker Program with a
Fast and Reliable Employment Verification System
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WASHINGTON - May 23, 2006 -- On the eve of an historic vote in the U.S. Senate, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) called for passage of legislation that will secure the nation's borders and provide the lodging industry, one of the nation's vital economic engines, with a stable source of workers. 

The bill, S. 2611 by Senators Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), is expected to come up for a vote tomorrow. If approved by the Senate, the bill will proceed to the Conference Committee to iron out differences with legislation approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last December. 

"This carefully crafted bipartisan compromise will resolve the immigration crisis by protecting our borders and creating an effective guest worker program," said AH&LA Executive Vice President for Public Policy Marlene Colucci. "The bill also establishes a rigorous identification and screening process for millions of immigrants already in the country. Those who pass background checks and are found to be beneficial to our economy would be given the opportunity to participate in a new guest worker program after paying fines and continuing to meet the program's requirements. This is a crucial element, as it will provide the lodging industry and many other sectors of the U.S. economy with a constant source of labor." 

"Record-low unemployment rates, combined with steady growth in the lodging industry, have created an urgent situation for America's hotels," said Jonathan M. Tisch, chairman and chief executive officer of Loews Hotels and former chairman of AH&LA. "Even though we provide competitive wages and benefits for our valued employees, we still cannot find enough Americans to fill critical positions at many of our hotels. A sensible and comprehensive approach to immigration reform, one that takes the long view, is the only way to address both the economic needs of U.S. businesses and the problem of undocumented workers already in our country." 

David Kong, president and CEO of Best Western International, said that many hotel owners are expressing serious concerns about finding applicants for vacant positions, especially as the economy improves. "The mounting labor shortage is probably one of the most troublesome problems facing the hotel industry today," Kong said. He emphasized that immigration reform must be comprehensive and include an adequate guest worker program with a fast and reliable employment verification system. "Every worker deserves the full protection of wage and labor laws. Best Western highly values our employees and provides them with excellent working conditions and compensation. 
Enactment of a new guest worker program will ensure that all employees, not just ours, experience the workplace environment they deserve because they will no longer be working in the shadows of our society." 

Also included in the Senate bill is a provision to extend the date by which travelers arriving from the Western Hemisphere must use a passport or other acceptable document to enter the United States. The bill pushes back the deadline to June 1, 2009, from the current deadline of December 31, 2007. The WHTI requires anyone, including U.S., Canadian and Mexican citizens, entering or re-entering the United States from the Western Hemisphere to have a passport or other secure document by December 31, 2007. 

Steve Porter, president of the Americas region of InterContinental Hotels Group and chair of AH&LA's Government Affairs Committee, said federal agencies have yet to agree on many important details of the program, such as the development of technical standards for an acceptable border crossing card and the selection of private sector partners to assist with prototyping, testing, and procurement of the document. 

"I applaud Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas), Kay Bailey-Hutchison (R-Texas), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) for their leadership in pressing for a more realistic implementation timetable for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI)," said Porter. "Their amendment to S. 2611 demonstrates an understanding of the serious negative impact premature implementation of WHTI would have on the U.S. economy." 

According to AH&LA, immigration reform legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last year is problematic for AH&LA members because it focuses exclusively on border and interior enforcement. It has no provision for a guest worker program, places considerable new burdens on employers, and establishes stiff penalties--even jail time--for employers who hire undocumented workers, yet it does not give employers the ability to verify citizenship. 

Colucci said AH&LA members comply with all labor laws, which require employees to present the necessary documents. "However, employees occasionally provide false documents," she said. "Federal law prohibits employers from verifying the validity of these documents if they appear authentic. Regrettably, some employees may be hired who employers later learn are in the country illegally. However, treating honest, law-abiding employers like criminals is not the answer. We urge the Senate to pass S. 2611 so the House-Senate Conference Committee can begin working out differences in the two bills." 

AH&LA is a 96-year-old association of 10,000 individual property members, hotel companies and related industry entities, with nearly 1.3 million guest rooms throughout the world. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., AH&LA provides members with national advocacy on Capitol Hill, public relations and image management, education, research and information, and other value-added services to ensure a positive business climate for the lodging industry. Partner state associations provide local representation and additional cost-saving benefits to members.

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Contact:

American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA)
Enica Thompson, 202-289-3153 
ethompson@ahla.com

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Also See: Shrinking Labor Force is Top Challenge for Global Hospitality, Tourism & Service Industries / Jeff Coy / January 2006
The Restaurant Industry, the Largest Employer of Immigrants in the Nation, Hoping Guest Worker Program Is a Part of Immigration Reform / March 2002


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