The American Horse Council has issued an advisory concerning immigration legislation pass in December by the U.S. House of Representatives that could have negative implications for the horse industry.
According to the AHC, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005" (H.R. 4437), introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, "focuses mainly on an enforcement first approach to immigration and foreign workers in an effort to tighten our borders and implement strict enforcement policies against illegal immigrants and American employers responsible for hiring them.
"Many employers in the horse industry see comprehensive immigration/guest worker reform as a way to legitimize their workforce and meet their labor demands," the AHC release continued. "The enforcement-only approach taken by the House of Representatives could have severe adverse affects on the horse industry and those local communities dependent upon their business."
"The American Horse Council supports border security, but we are concerned the 'enforcement first' approach adopted by the House may overwhelm the attempt at needed, broader immigration reform," said Jay Hickey, President of the American Horse Council. "If this bill became law, it would place heavy fines and penalties on employers who do not comply, but would not deal with the difficult compliance issues now in effect."
According to the AHC, key provisions of the bill that would affect U.S. employers in the horse industry are:
--Absence of a guest worker provision to streamline the process or adjustment of status provisions for undocumented workers, which could result in a labor shortage and the loss of experienced employees.
--Employer penalties for hiring undocumented workers would be substantially increased. The minimum penalty per illegal alien under the bill would be $5,000 for a first offense, $10,000 for a second offense and $25,000 for a third.
--After two years, all U.S. employers would be required to use a costly and burdensome telephonic and electronic verification system to determine a worker's employment eligibility. Failure to use the system would subject employers to the higher penalties.
--Employers would have to meet recruited individuals face-to-face and undertake the electronic verification procedures before they could even recruit the workers. In many cases, this would require the U.S. employer to travel to a foreign country to interview all prospective employees or otherwise face a $5,000 fine per worker.
"We expect the Senate to make immigration reform a key issue in the upcoming weeks and months," said Hickey. "It is crucial that the Senate hear from the horse industry about the need for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a practical foreign-worker program."