Agricultural Guest-Worker Bill Introduced in Washington

As many as 1.5 million undocumented farm workers and their relatives currently living and working in the United States could gain legal status under an ambitious agricultural guest-worker plan introduced Jan. 10 on Capitol Hill.

The Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits, and Security Act of 2007-AgJobs Bill-is the first major immigration overhaul bill introduced this year, mirroring legislation passed last year by the Senate but not the House of Representatives.

"The AgJobs bill is a two-part bill," said one of its sponsors, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. "Part one would create a pilot program to identify undocumented agricultural workers and legalize the immigration status for those who have been working in the United States for the past two years or more. The second part would create a more usable H-2A program to implement a realistic and effective guest worker program."

The legislation has bipartisan sponsorship.

"We've supported this bill for some time," American Horse Council president Jay Hickey said. "It would speed up the process to the H-2A agricultural workers, which is what our farms use."

Under the bill, illegal immigrants that can prove they have worked in agricultural jobs for at least 150 working days for the past two years would become eligible for a "blue card" giving them temporary legal status. Their spouses and minor children also could get a blue card if they already live in the U.S.

The total number of blue cards would be capped at 1.5 million over a five-year period, and the program would sunset after five years. Those who receive the blue cards must work in agriculture an additional three years, at least 150 days per year, or five years at least 100 days a year, to become eligible for legal residency. In addition, they must pay a $500 fine, be up to date on taxes, and not have committed crimes involving bodily injury or threat of bodily injury or caused serious property damage of $500 or more.

Blue-card holders would be allowed to work in other, non-agricultural jobs as long as the agriculture work requirements are met. While the AgJobs bill could have a positive effect for farm workers, it wouldn't aide racetrack stable employees who enter the country legally under the H-2B visa program.

"The AgJobs bill is strictly for agriculture--for our breeding farms," Hickey said. "The other part of the (immigration reform) puzzle will deal with non-agriculture workers such as backside employees. That bill has yet to be introduced.

"There are different groups working on different parts. The horse industry uses both agricultural and non-agricultural workers under the H-2A and H-2B program. We need both parts of the puzzle."

About the Author

Leslie Deckard

Leslie Deckard is a former staff writer for The Blood-Horse magazine.

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