State Temporary Worker Plan

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Arizona lawmakers are proposing to create a state-run temporary worker plan that would let people come to the state to work legally. The proposed bill would create a two-year test program that allowed only legal immigrants from Mexico who would be screened and monitored. State Senate Minority Leader Marsha Arzberger joins HORIZONTE to talk about the bill.

José Cárdenas:
Good evening. I'm José Cárdenas. Welcome to "Horizonte."

José Cárdenas:
Arizona lawmakers are debating bills proposing a state temporary guest worker program. And an initiative created for schools to increase student achievement among minorities and help them "Beat The Odds." All this coming up next on "Horizonte."

José Cárdenas:
Some Arizona lawmakers have filed bills to create a temporary foreign worker program to attract skilled workers from Mexico and help fill labor shortages in the state. If it passes, it would still require approval from Congress. Joining me to talk about the bills is one of the sponsors, State Senate Minority Leader Marsha Arzberger. Senator Arzberger, welcome to Horizonte. You've been here before, we've talked about this. Give us the current status of the legislation; then let's talk about some of the specifics.

Marsha Arzberger:
The bill is creating a program, one in the House and one in the Senate. The house bill is moving and the senate bill is not at the moment. The two chairmen it was assigned to didn't wish to hear a controversial subject, I guess, was probably the reason. The house bill is moving and waiting for a third revote. That's a vote of the entire house and then it will proceed to the senate.

José Cárdenas:
For the benefit of the viewers, remind us what the provisions are of the bills.

Marsha Arzberger:
This is a new idea. When Congress failed to act on comprehensive immigration reform, the state started introducing hundreds of bills actually for their state only to address different problems of the immigration reform. Now we're the first to create a state-administered temporary worker program although Colorado is trying to do something a little bit similar just not quite like ours. This would allow employers to first sign a statement with the industrial commission that they have a need of workers that cannot be filled in Arizona. They cannot find workers. They can go to Mexico and recruit them, they're background checked, they're fingerprinted and they receive a non-forgeable card which would allow them to pass back and forth through the port of entry so they can actually go home and come back and work. That employer can have that employee for two years. Many of them are skilled, you know.

José Cárdenas:
Let's talk about the need and then I want to go back to the parts that require federal approval. What is the need for guest workers at this point in time in Arizona?

Marsha Arzberger:
Arizona is in an economic down slump. Many of our industries have needs for workers and unfortunately we have seen a recent disappearance of workers with the strict laws now on documentation and many employers I've talked to believed they were hiring fully legal people but perhaps someone in the family wasn't legal and they left. Those employees simply left,
leaving empty apartments and everything.

José Cárdenas:
Were there any industries that were particularly affected? And that would benefit from this legislation?

Marsha Arzberger:
The vegetable industry in particular has always counted on people who have a background of working out in the fields and many of those workers have always come from Mexico. Yuma for example hires about 30,000 a year. Some of those go back and forth every day. They get up at 2:30 in the morning to pass the checkpoints, go to work at 6:00 in the morning and go back to Mexico. They're legal. But that's a day worker. And it's very hard on them. It would be easier if they could come, work for five days, stay in a little hotel in the small town and go back home on the weekend.

José Cárdenas:
This program would deal with that circumstance?

Marsha Arzberger:
It would. Same thing on the east part of the state in my district where we have a greenhouse industry, those people travel 65 miles by bus one way twice a day to come to work and be legal as day workers.

José Cárdenas:
What other industries would be impacted by your proposal?

Marsha Arzberger:
We have roofing. There's an industry where it's very difficult to find workers who will work in the heat. And we have building contractors. And we have hotel workers and all of these are impacted. And a businessman who runs a little steel company and he pays his employees $50,000 a year and trains them and he just lost a fifth of his staff last month. A fifth of his employees.

José Cárdenas:
Because?

Marsha Arzberger:
They left.

José Cárdenas:
Now he needs to replace them?

Marsha Arzberger:
He doesn't think he can because it's difficult to find people who want to do that hard work.

José Cárdenas:
One of the criticisms of legislation such as this is that if employers, such as the one you gave an example of, try harder and find the people here legally to do the work, how do you respond to that?

Marsha Arzberger:
My husband can't find anybody to help him do yard work around our farm, absolutely cannot find anyone.

José Cárdenas:
Regardless of the wages they're being paid?

Marsha Arzberger:
He finally found a businessman, whose business is actually trimming trees, to come for fifty dollars an hour for two hours, but two hours was all he could spare.

José Cárdenas:
Some of the newspaper reports about the legislation, critics are quoted as saying that this is just a back-doorway to grant amnesty to people who are here illegally.

Marsha Arzberger:
You can't apply if you're here, for the program. The employer --

José Cárdenas:
You can't apply if you are not here legally?

Marsha Arzberger:
That's right. It has to be only people who are living in Mexico and have no record of having any kind of felony or crime in the United States.

José Cárdenas:
What's the basis of the oppositions in the Arizona legislature?

Marsha Arzberger:
Well, the only things I've heard for certain in the e-mails I received are that there's a certain group of people that don't want anyone coming here from a foreign country. And they begin their e-mail by saying, America is full. And one gentleman, one man wrote me and said, "There are Americans to take those jobs." I really was tempted to ask if he wanted to come out and would like to spray weeds on our farm.

José Cárdenas:
Are these people and constituents who communicated with you? What about your fellow legislatures? Those who opposed the legislation, why did they do it?

Marsha Arzberger:
It hasn't come to a vote except in committee, and the committee was outstanding support. Now, what I hear --

José Cárdenas:
That was in the house. 6-0 vote as I recall.

Marsha Arzberger:
What I hear from the legislatives is that they do believe in the illegal workers. I'm not sure that's what their final vote will be. I'll have to see. Even those people who have been opposed, so strongly supported the employer sanctions have said we believe in a legal program. Well, here's a legal program.

José Cárdenas:
It's one, though, to become fully effective requires approval by the federal government. What are you doing to obtain that approval?

Marsha Arzberger:
Working with our congressional delegation. I'm working with the Democrats. Bill -- is working with the Republicans. Congressman Pastor has reviewed all the materials himself personally and is looking for options. The office of the governor has a representative in Congress, he's looking for options. It may not take a separate bill. They need authorization so that this non-forgeable card that's issued by the state is legal documentation to pass through the port and authorization to do this program. It may not be that difficult.

José Cárdenas:
Opposition to this legislation is coming from not only those you mentioned before who think we shouldn't have foreign workers here regardless of their legal status but also from labor workers' rights groups and farmer workers' rights groups who say it will take an effect and take advantage of people doing this work?

Marsha Arzberger:
Are you aware that these temporary workers would be eligible to join a union and receive union protection?

José Cárdenas:
That's part of your answer.

Marsha Arzberger:
The greenhouse industry that is quite large, that I was talking about, does have unionized workers. They would be eligible. In addition the industrial commission is that one that's overseeing this program and the industrial commission is in charge of making certain that all employee-related laws are held to.

José Cárdenas:
There's some provision, I don't know if it's in the legislature just being discussed to withhold 20% of the wages to ensure that people go back to their country of origin and the money is sent after they've returned. Is that part of --

Marsha Arzberger:
That's Colorado's idea. And I don't believe they have the open passing back and forth through the ports that we do.

José Cárdenas:
So they would have a different approach to this?

Marsha Arzberger:
They would. Now I see it a worker has a solid job for two years and it can be renewed. They can go home on holidays. They have to tell their employer where they are going and how long they will be gone and have permission to leave. But they can go back to their family and visit. That's a pretty good incentive to stick to the rules.

José Cárdenas:
Senator, just last question on this. What are the realistic prospects that we'll see this legislation coming out of the legislature this term?

Marsha Arzberger:
I'm not certain. The legislature is pretty well focused on the budget right now. There's not as much focus on policy. I'm just not certain what will happen. Whatever whether it passes this year or it returns again next year or several other states decide to join us in the effort to ask Congress for authorization, all of those things are possibilities.

José Cárdenas:
Senator Marsha Arzberger, thank you for joining us on Horizonte to talk about this bill.

Marsha Arzberger: State Senate Minority Leader ;

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