American Horse Council Discusses Immigration Reform in 2012

Despite substantial efforts to recruit and train U.S. citizens for equine jobs, some horse farms, ranches, horse shows, trainers and other industry members must rely on foreign workers and use both the H-2B and H-2A temporary foreign worker programs to meet their labor needs. For this reason immigration polices have a profound impact on the American horse industry.

In 2011 numerous bills were introduced in the 112th Congress concerning immigration, most enforcement oriented. Most notably, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced the Legal Workforce Act (H.R.2885), which would require all employers to use the federal E-verify system to make sure their workers are authorized to work. The House Judiciary Committee held hearings on this bill and reported it out of committee on Sept. 21.

"In the summer and fall (of 2011) we saw a lot of action in Congress on immigration," said American Horse Council (AHC) Legislative Director Ben Pendergrass. "Committees in both the House and Senate held numerous hearings and the House Judiciary Committee approved a mandatory E-verify bill. Since then however, there has been little movement on the issue because even Members of Congress who are in favor of beefing up enforcement and passing mandatory E-verify can't agree on the best way to proceed."

In response to concerns that mandatory E-verify would cripple the U.S. agricultural industry several bills, like the American Specialty Agriculture Act (H.R.2847) and the Legal Agricultural Workforce Act (H.R.2895), were introduced. These bills would create new, less burdensome temporary foreign agricultural worker programs to replace the current H-2A program. However, no consensus emerged on which of the many proposals on the table would best accommodate the needs of agriculture.

"It is absolutely vital for the horse industry to have access to functioning, efficient, and cost effective foreign temporary worker programs to meet its labor needs, and the horse industry cannot support any bill unless it provides for those needs," said AHC President Jay Hickey. "We would like Congress to reform our system in a comprehensive way. However, as we enter another election year it is unlikely Congress will have much of a desire to deal with a hot-button issue like immigration."

Pendergrass added, "It is likely more immigration bills will be introduced in 2012 and there maybe action taken on specific issues like the H-2B wage rule, but right now it doesn't look like Congress will take action on major legislation like mandatory E-verify."


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