In consideration of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S. 744), Sen. Michael Enzi (Wyo.) spoke on the Senate floor in support of the special sheepherder provisions allowed to the sheep industry for more than 50 years.
"The special procedures play an important role in protecting the future of American agriculture," said Enzi. "I am pleased the immigration bill allows occupations such as sheepherding to operate under the new program as it has operated for the past 50 years. In addition, I am pleased that the legislation recognizes a specific need to address the unique wage, housing and operational components of the special procedure programs. Finally, it is vital that rulemaking requires agency consultation with stakeholders when drafting policies for the special procedure program."
The entirety of Enzi's comments are available at www.sheepusa.org/ASI_Positions under the H-2A heading.
By a vote of 68 to 32, senators concluded a nearly month-long debate of the 1,200-page comprehensive immigration measure. They voted on a plan that attempts to fortify the U.S.-Mexico border and other exit points across the country while also providing opportunities for millions of eligible immigrants to apply for permanent status and eventually citizenship.
At a cost of roughly $30 billion, the legislation would double the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border to roughly 40,000 and require the construction of 700 miles of fencing along the southern border. The use of military-style technology, including radar and unmanned aerial drones to track illegal border crossings, would also be used.
The Department of Homeland Security would be required to establish a biometric tracking system at the nation's 30 largest airports and eventually at border crossings and seaports to catch people attempting to leave the country with overstayed visas. In an attempt to address the needs of a broad cross-section of the business community that relies on immigrant laborers, the agreement would increase the number of visas available to high-skilled workers, most of whom work in the fields of science and technology, and lower-skilled people who take jobs in the construction and hospitality industries. Immigrant farm workers would be admitted under a temporary guest worker program.
The bill would place new burdens to employers, who would be required to check the legal status of job applicants using the government's E-Verify system.
The Agriculture Workforce Coalition, of which the American Sheep Industry Association is a member, earlier in the week conveyed to Senate members the importance of passing the immigration bill.
"American agriculture has acutely felt the effects of our flawed immigration system, as foreign labor is largely responsible for harvesting our crops and tending to our livestock," the letter stated. This legislation "offers the reforms needed to mend our broken immigration system and provide the agriculture industry with a stable and secure workforce."
Also expressing support of S. 744 were past secretaries of the U.S. Department of Agriculture who stated, "During our tenures as secretary, each of us has seen firsthand the growing inability of America's farmers, ranchers and growers to find the workers they need to harvest crops, care for animals or maintain healthy orchards. This is a problem that has been growing in severity and intensity for the past three decades. What once might have been seen as a problem for only one segment of producers in a specific region of the country is now a problem for a broad range of farmers and ranchers nationwide."
Prior to the final vote in the Senate, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that he would not allow a House vote on the Senate-passed immigration bill. He went on to further say that there would not be a vote in the House on any agreement that emerges from a future House-Senate conference agreement on immigration reform unless there is a majority of Republican House members in support of the conference report.
The House has a seven member bi-partisan group that is working on a comprehensive immigration bill but has not produced either a detailed plan or legislation. House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) supports a piecemeal approach to immigration reform that is gaining support with House members. To date, the Judiciary Committee has reported H.R. 1173 that creates a new program for agricultural guest workers administered by the Department of Agriculture and H.R. 2278, a bill that gives state and local governments greater authority over immigration enforcement.
Speaker Boehner has said that he plans to meet with his conference following the 4th of July recess to discuss immigration and the next steps the House will pursue.