PRESCOTT - Arizona policymakers endorsed a foreign guestworker program as critical to the state’s economic success.
The 153 participants at the 86th Arizona Town Hall ended their three-day session Wednesday with a report also calling on state and federal lawmakers to set aside differences to develop a common vision on border issues.
Twice a year, the Arizona Town Hall invites people, legislators and government officials, business and civic leaders throughout the state to discuss a specific topic. This week, participants considered how Arizona could improve its competitive edge in the global economy. How to deal with illegal immigration dominated much of the debate.
A draft of the group’s final report said changing characteristics of the American work force means many businesses must hire foreign employees to fill key jobs in agriculture, construction and tourism. The U.S. doesn’t offer enough foreign employment visas, which drives most of the ongoing wave of immigrants crossing the border without government permission, the draft said.
The only long-term answer is a comprehensive guestworker program, participants agreed.
The group carefully avoided endorsing any specific proposal, but urged Arizona’s congressional delegation to craft a common approach. Until now, Republican Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl have worked on competing plans.
"We wanted to send a strong message that Arizona must speak with one voice, or our concerns on these issues won’t be heard," said Bill Porter, a Kingman attorney.
To address concerns from border-control advocates, several Town Hall participants insisted the report include statements on more federal spending for border security and cracking down on employers who continue to hire illegal immigrants, once a guestworker program is in place.