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Arizona House panel endorses guest-worker program proposals

PHOENIX — A committee of the Arizona Legislature approved proposals Monday that would attempt to create a guest-worker program that’s run by the state.

America’s guest-worker programs are now run exclusively by the federal government, whose permission would be needed for an Arizona program. Some businesses complain the federal guest-worker system is fraught with bureaucracy and that foreign workers sometimes arrive later than needed.

Senate Minority Leader Marsha Arzberger, a Democrat from Willcox and a sponsor of the proposals, said a state-run program was needed because some businesses were unable to fill their labor needs with local workers and Arizona can’t wait for Congress to overhaul the country’s immigration policies, including its visa system.

Democratic Rep. Ben Miranda of Phoenix, who voted against the proposals, said approving the Arizona measures might ease pressure on Congress to comprehensively confront immigration woes. “My fear is that if we piecemeal the whole approach to immigration reform, we will end up with just exactly that,” Miranda said.

The proposals are viewed as the flipside of a new Arizona law that prohibits employers from hiring illegal immigrants and that has prompted scores of immigrants to leave the state.

Lawmakers in Arizona and Colorado are considering proposals to create their own guest-worker programs to attract more immigrant laborers.

Under the Arizona proposals, employers could recruit workers from other countries if they can document a labor shortage and efforts to find local employees.

Criminal background checks would be required of the foreign workers, who would be disqualified if they were convicted of U.S. crimes or Mexican violations that would be felonies or the most serious misdemeanors in the United States.

The Arizona proposals would admit an unlimited number of workers and place no bounds on industries that could recruit foreign employees.

An approved skilled foreign worker would get an ID card valid for two years and could travel to and from Mexico through ports of entry in Arizona. They would be prohibited from traveling to other American states.

Republican Rep. Kirk Adams of Mesa, who voted for the bill, questioned whether employers would face penalties for not complying with the program’s requirements, such as giving back the ID cards of guest workers who are absent from work for two straight weeks. “The Achilles’ heel of this bill right now is the enforcement side,” Adams said.

Republican state Rep. Bill Konopnicki, another sponsor of the proposals, said employers who don’t meet the requirements to give back ID cards would become ineligible for the program. “If they don’t comply, they’re out,” Konopnicki said.

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