WASHINGTON - Landmark immigration legislation passed by the Senate would remake America's workforce from the highest rungs to the lowest and bring many more immigrants into the economy, from elite technology companies to restaurant kitchens and rural fields.
In place of the unauthorized workers now commonly found laboring in lower-skilled jobs in the agriculture or service industries, many of these workers would be legal, some of them permanent-resident green card holders or even citizens.
Illegal immigration across the border with Mexico would slow, but legal immigration would increase markedly.
In this June 28, 2013, photo Patrick McGuire of Atwood, Mich., examines sweet cherries growing in his orchard. McGuire says a labor shortage caused by the immigration controversy is making it difficult for him and other Michigan fruit growers to harvest their crops.
That's the portrait that emerges from recent analyses of the far-reaching bill passed last month by the Senate with the backing of the White House. Although the bill aims to secure the borders, track people overstaying their visas and deny employers the ability to hire workers here illegally, it by no means seeks to choke off immigration. Indeed, the U.S. population over the next two decades would be likely to increase by 15 million people above the probable level if no changes were made to immigration laws, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Even after decades of growth in the U.S. foreign-born population, the added increase could be felt in ways large and small around the country, from big cities that would absorb even more diversity to small towns that may still be adjusting to current immigrant arrivals.
"That is baked into the basic premise of the bill," said Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, "which is that you need to provide legal avenues for people to come to the country both in longer-term temporary and in permanent visa categories in order to meet the needs of the future and avert the incentives for illegal immigration."
The level of immigration under the legislation has been a political issue in the debate and will probably continue to be disputed in the weeks ahead as the House's GOP majority wrestles with how to respond to the Senate bill.
The House timetable is unclear, with majority Republicans scheduled to hold a closed-door meeting on Wednesday to plan their next steps.
Senate Majority leader Harry Reid urged Speaker John Boehner on Monday to allow a vote on the Senate-passed measure, but that is unlikely, at least in the short run. Boehner has said previously he will only place legislation on the floor that has the support of at least half of his party's rank and file, a formula that so far, appears to rule out the path to citizenship that is at the core of the Senate-passed measure.
The Senate bill's treatment of immigrants already in the U.S. illegally is distinct from the system it would create for legal immigration.
Working out a comprehensive GOP House response could be complex because the Senate version itself is complicated. It would expand various temporary and permanent visa categories, shut down others and create still other new ones.
Some visa programs would be capped and some wouldn't. Some would expand or contract in response to demand.