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Obama seeks unity on guest-worker program

– The Obama administration is trying to broker a deal between business and labor leaders over a controversial guest-worker program for foreigners.

The White House is treading cautiously, sensing that business and labor leaders are closing in on an agreement that would make the two sides powerful allies in Obama’s push to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws this year. On Tuesday, the president met separately with representatives from both sides, hoping to marshal their support.

“We talked about a data-driven system that is actually driven by needs and not by aspirations of employers,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who attended the meeting with labor leaders. “We talked about a fair system. … We’re working on it now. We’re hopeful.”

The behind-the-scenes negotiations come as the Obama administration faces a difficult path in shepherding a potential comprehensive immigration bill through the Democrat-controlled Senate and the Republican-led House. The effort could face serious obstacles, including disagreements over whether a plan should include same-sex couples or provide a path for citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Over the past several weeks, Trumka has been engaged in private talks with U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue. Both have publicly supported other major tenets of immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.

But obstacles remain over the new guest-worker program sought by the chamber, which argues that businesses need maximum flexibility to hire foreign workers when there are not enough qualified or willing Americans to fill jobs.

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