The U.S. Senate has passed historic immigration legislation that offers hopes of American citizenship to millions, promises a military-style surge to secure the border, and also should have a positive effect on horse racing.
The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, which was approved on a 68-32 vote June 27. The American Horse Council supports the bill, it said in a statement following the vote, "because it would fix many of the immigration issues facing the horse industry."
It will now be up to the House of Representatives to take action on this bill or their own version of a comprehensive immigration measure.
"The bill as passed would substantially increase border security and implement an employment verification system," the AHC statement said. "Most importantly for the horse industry, it would allow undocumented workers to legalize their status and replace the broken H-2A program with a new agricultural worker program administered by U.S. Department of Agriculture. It would also make improvements to the H-2B program and create a new W-visa low-skilled program that would allow employers to hire foreign workers when no Americans can be found."
The proposed program allows a certified foreign national to enter the U.S. to work for a certified employer in a certified position. Many steps are required for certification of the worker, the employer, and the position, but the W visa would allow the worker to remain in the U.S. up to six years and allow pursuit of a green card. It would also allow greater flexibility for the employer and the worker without an additional visa filing; allowing the worker to change employers and allowing the employer to replace the resigning employee with another certified worker.
One aspect of the bill both Democrats and Republicans have agreed on is the E-Verify requirement that within five years, would mandatorily force all employers to use the electronic E-Verify system to document a person's identity and work authorization. Although employers fought the system when introduced five years ago, most systematic issues have been resolved. E-verify would provide confirmation to the small business employers in the Thoroughbred industry that the workers they hire have provided true and accurate documents and are legally employable.
The bill, a priority for President Barack Obama, would amount to the most sweeping changes in decades to the nation's immigration laws.
"The difficulty horse farms, horse shows, trainers, and others have had recruiting American workers has forced many to rely on foreign workers," said the AHC, and use "both the H-2B and H-2A temporary foreign worker programs to meet their labor needs.
"However, the current system is not reliable and is extremely burdensome to use. This bill would overhaul the U.S. immigration system and fix some of the immigration issues facing the horse industry and all of American agricultural."
Freelance writer Jessie Oswald contributed to this story.