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Napolitano postpones action on immigrant worker bill

Governor shelves decision pending fate of border bill

Gov. Janet Napolitano said Wednesday that she has made a decision on whether to veto an Arizona bill to crack down on businesses that hire undocumented workers.

But she said she won’t announce her decision until next week, when the Senate is expected to be done working on federal immigration legislation.

Napolitano, a Democrat, spoke from Washington, where she travelled to help lobby for passage of the bill. After a speech Wednesday morning, she said the outcome could influence how she handles the Arizona legislation – but not the decision she has made.

“I’m going to act on that on Monday, so I don’t want to tip my hand on that at this point,” she said. “I have decided what I’m going to do. How I articulate that may change based on what happens this week in Congress.”

The proposed state law would suspend and eventually revoke the business licenses of firms that knowingly hire illegal immigrants. If Napolitano signs it, it would become one of the strictest state laws in the country dealing with workplace enforcement.

Chuck Freitas of Falcon Pools in Tucson said the bill might stop or slow down companies that flagrantly use illegal immigrants, but he worried that it could also unleash a chain of accusations some companies might use to hurt competitors.

“All they have to do is make the allegation, and then the problems start,” Freitas said.

Chris Niccum, who owns the landscaping company Sonoran Gardens, worried the bill would aggravate the labor shortage and said the federal government has to find a way to legalize the country’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants.

“How do you replace 12 million workers?” Niccum asked. “There are not 12 million people looking for jobs. We need reform. We don’t need penalties.”

Niccum also expressed concern that the bill could make Arizona less attractive to businesses considering moving here.

Napolitano emphasized that she has supported sanctions against companies that employ illegal workers, but also highlighted some possible problems with the Arizona bill.

The bill under debate in the Senate this week could make the state proposal moot if it passes. It would allow most illegal immigrants to get legal status, require employers to verify the work status of their workers and allow foreigners to come here temporarily for jobs in the future.

Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain, both Arizona Republicans, helped craft the bill, working with the White House and a bipartisan coalition.

After her speech, Napolitano went to Capitol Hill to try to persuade some liberal Democrats to support the immigration bill despite misgivings from many labor unions over the temporary worker programs.

“What happens if this bill doesn’t pass?” Napolitano asked. “Nothing good.”

Gannett News Service contributed to this article.

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