As a federal labor program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor with an additional role of Homeland Security, the H-2A program will be a primary topic in immigration reform legislation to be considered by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives this Congress.
In order to support the sheepherder program in immigration legislation, representatives of the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI), Mountain Plains Agriculture Service and Western Range Association gathered in Denver, Colo., on Feb. 27 to discuss a legislative strategy to protect and to codify the H-2A sheep language that has benefitted the industry for over the last 60 years.
ASI lobbies on behalf of sheep producers and the labor organizations work on behalf of the producers to line up the herders, process the legal paperwork and serve as a conduit with the federal government. Proprietary communications were shared amongst participants in an effort to gather necessary information to draft relevant sheep industry language for inclusion in a workable immigration bill.
"Sheep producers have been doing it correctly for many years," said Peter Orwick, ASI executive director. "They have been spending the money and filing the paperwork needed to keep their workers legal. Sheep ranchers are one of the few categories of agricultural workers that make the investment to maintain legal and documented workers.
"The industry has been short American workers for sheepherding since World War II, therefore, the industry developed a number of provisions over the decades that make the H-2A program work," added Orwick. "Other industries actually mention the sheep industry provisions when they discuss the need for an effective immigrant labor program.
"The industry greatly appreciates the commitment of Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming to lead the legislative effort to support continuing the sheepherder program. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is expected to address the immigration legislation, the sheep industry is fortunate to have Enzi's leadership to ensure we have an appropriate sheepherder program in statute."
According to Orwick, Enzi has worked with the committee chair Sen. Leahy of Vermont in prior years on legislation to provide H-2A for the sheep and dairy industries.
Clint Krebs, ASI president, adds, "It is critical that we have language prepared and supporters in Congress ready to help us ensure our program is part of the final immigration legislation. This legislative committee is key to assuring that all three organizations are communicating in unison with Congress and the industry. We expect to issue legislative briefings for producers to use in meetings with their congressional delegation and, obviously, the May trip to Washington, D.C., will be a key event on this issue."