WASHINGTON, Aug. 26, 2013 – While agricultural stakeholders await more action from Congress on immigration reform and on the potential fate of many undocumented farm workers, two lawmakers recently made moves to clamp down on illegal immigration.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., sent a letter recently to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano expressing concern regarding a recent surge in immigrants, largely from Mexico, claiming asylum at U.S. ports of entry.

Goodlatte said that in recent years, “credible fear” requests at U.S. ports of entry have nearly quadrupled from about 5,500 requests in FY 2009 to about 19,000 requests through May of FY 2013.

If the present trends continue, Goodlatte said, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services estimates they will receive nearly 29,000 “credible fear” requests in FY 2013, for a 434 percent increase over the last five years.

Goodlatte said his committee plans to conduct oversight on the asylum issue and address concerns via the House leadership’s approach to addressing immigration reform.

Separately, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., sent a letter Aug. 22 to Marlin Gusman, sheriff of Orleans Parish, asking him to reverse his decision to reject detention requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Orleans Parish has already received horrible nationwide press surrounding the out-of-control dysfunction of the Orleans Parish Prison. Instead of addressing needed reforms to the Orleans Parish Prison, you are telling the country that you will actively prevent federal enforcement of immigration law,” Vitter said. “What an embarrassment.”

How immigration reform may move forward in Congress remains unknown.

Recently, the Senate approved a comprehensive immigration reform legislation (S. 744), which seeks to provide a path to legal status for millions of undocumented people - many of whom are farm workers.

The Senate passed that bill with a strong bipartisan 68-32 vote on June 27.

The bill, which seeks to bolster border security and create a system to allow illegal aliens a chance at citizenship, would create a new “blue card” program for experienced farm workers, and a new version of the current agricultural worker visa program.

For its part, House leadership has taken a piecemeal approach to the immigration issue focusing mainly on border security.

Addressing undocumented farm workers, the House Judiciary Committee approved June 19 the Agricultural Guestworker Act with a vote of 20-16. The bill, authored by Goodlatte, would replace the existing H-2A agricultural visa program with a new H-2C program. The bill proposes to allow up to 500,000 temporary agricultural laborers into the United States per year. The visa would allow workers to stay in the US for up to 18 months, as opposed to the maximum of one year issued to H-2A visa holders.


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