Arizona considers a guest worker program of its own
It is fast tracking bills that would allow the state to admit temporary workers from Mexico.
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Changes include a procedure to more fairly calculate wages for foreign workers and ways to cut red tape, making it easier and swifter to hire foreign workers, particularly at harvest time. To protect domestic workers, the proposed changes increase the time employers would be required to recruit American workers before resorting to hiring foreign labor.Skip to next paragraph
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"The governor is glad [Secretary] Chao is considering changes," says Dennis Burke, chief of staff for Governor Napolitano, but is "not enamored" of a process that did not consult the states.
Arizona is home to a huge agricultural center at Yuma, where 80 to 90 percent of lettuce consumed in the US in the winter is grown. After meeting with farm workers and growers there, Napolitano wrote to Chao two days before the Labor Department's proposed changes were released. In her letter, she identified problems that "defeat the current H-2A program's stated purpose" and offered to lead an effort among border states to help revise the program.
Napolitano also backs in-state moves to create a guest worker program. Twin bills were first filed in February and have been gaining support. They are set to be reintroduced Monday with the Senate and House leaders as cosponsors. "With the leadership sponsoring, I expect the bills to fast track through," says Sen. Marsha Arzberger, the initial sponsor.
The measures would spare agricultural employers the arduous US approval process, Senator Arzberger says. Instead, an employer would send only one application, laying out the need for foreign labor, to the Industrial Commission of Arizona. If the commission certifies that Arizona lacks enough workers to fill the need, the employer can recruit in Mexico.
Prospective employees in Mexico go to the US consulate, undergo background checks, and, if certified to enter the US, receive employment cards to work in the US for two years, versus the 10 months now allowed under the federal program.
Lost in this discussion, critics say, is that the programs don't work.
"One argument made now about why we need a guest worker program is that it will end undocumented immigration," says Luis Plascencia, an expert on Mexican migration and guest worker programs at Arizona State University in Tempe. "It's the exact opposite. The bracero program and ensuing efforts stimulated illegal immigration…. Once migratory movements start, they become self-perpetuating."
Critics also cite a lack of enforcement, either against employers who abuse workers or workers who overstay their visas. The US government doesn't have the manpower or resources to do it now, experts say, and neither does Arizona.
While immigration policies give the impression that authorities have a handle on the problem, says John Garcia, an expert on public policy and immigration at the University of Arizona in Tucson, "there is a real problem with enforcement.