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Updated Apr 3, 2013 - 6:31 am

Flake: Guest worker program will go beyond agriculture

PHOENIX -- U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said Tuesday that a comprehensive immigration reform bill he is working on with a bipartisan group of senators will include a temporary worker program covering more than agriculture.

"In particular, we feel here in Arizona that in construction, not just agriculture, we have a need for foreign workers," Flake told an Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry luncheon.

Flake said the so-called Gang of Eight hasn't signed off on any deal yet but is working to balance job opportunities for Americans with the need for foreign workers who can fill low-wage, low-skill jobs.

"What we've tried to do is have a system that meets the needs of employers and the labor community," he said.

Flake said the immigration bill would provide an expedited path toward citizenship for those in the agriculture industry.

"If people stay in the agriculture sector, there would be a slightly different process for them," he said. "As far as details, that's as far as I'll go."

Flake said the bill will be written in the next week and introduced in the coming weeks in the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which he and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also part of the Gang of Eight, are members.

He said he expects disagreements on the temporary worker plan.

"There are going to be a lot of people who are going to be unhappy about the guest worker element, but that may just mean we have a bill that can actually pass," he said. "We'll hopefully be able to move it through the process."

Flake said passing an immigration reform bill in both the House and Senate could create other opportunities for bipartisan legislation.

"I hope that if we can get agreement on immigration that that will show to the country that Washington can agree on a few things," he said. "If we can tackle an issue as thorny and as tough as this issue then maybe we can get together on a long-term budget deal."

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