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Frustrated by the feds, Ariz. eyes its own guest-worker program

PHOENIX Arizona lawmakers are considering bills to create a new state-level guest-worker program and to revise the 2007 law that could put restaurateurs or other employers out of business if they knowingly hire illegal workers.

The House and Senate are both considering legislation that would create a program to provide temporary foreign workers for the hospitality trade and other businesses experiencing labor shortages. Proponents say the state’s employers can’t wait for the U.S. Congress to overhaul immigration policies. The plan currently calls for recruiting foreign workers for two-year periods.

Arizona would need the approval of the federal government for the proposed state-run program, which the Arizona Restaurant and Hospitality Association is supporting.

Steve Chucri, president and chief executive of the ARHA, said, “The real question is whether the feds will grant the waiver as provided in the legislation, which is unlikely.  However, it sends the message to Washington that we need reform and if other states pass similar legislation then we may get results in Washington.”

The Arizona Senate is also considering a bill, SB 1374, which would make changes to last year’s sanctions law, which allows authorities to revoke the business licenses of companies that knowingly hire undocumented workers. It is considered one of the strictest state immigration laws in the nation.

Proposed changes, still being discussed in the Senate, include making penalties apply only to workers hired after Jan. 1, when the law went into effect, and to establish a new voluntary compliance program.

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