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Meet the unusual suspects lobbying for immigration reform

Kentucky Derby winner Orb gets a bath following a workout in preparation for the 138th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 16, 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland. The American Horse Council is lobbying Congress on immigration reform.

While the Senate debates comprehensive immigration reform, hordes of lobbyists are vying for attention. The Sunlight Foundation estimates as many as 3,000 lobbyists have worked on immigration issues in the past few years. There are the usual suspects -- restaurant owners, farmers, and construction groups -- and then there are the not-so-usual suspects. 

You may not expect to find lobbyists focused on immigration issues in Baltimore this weekend at the Pimlico Race Course, home to the Preakness Stakes. But the American Horse Council is lobbying Congress on immigration reform.

“Well, immigration has been an interest for a long, long time,” Jay Hickey says. He’s the group’s president.

The American Horse Council represents horse owners’ interests in Washington. The horse industry is worth $102 billion, and low-skilled workers from overseas are an important part of that.

“We use H-2A agricultural workers on a temporary basis on our breeding farms and our training facilities,” Hickey says.

Those visas are limited, and his group wants more of them. According to Hickey, these workers do jobs that are specialized and physical. Try as horse owners may -- and they do try, Hickey notes -- there aren’t many Americans who are willing do those jobs.

“You just can’t find them,” he says. “And if you can find them, they don’t want to do it, or they’re not qualified to do it.”

You’ll also find lobbyists focused on immigration issues in concert halls.

“Just like music is everywhere in our lives, it also shows up in all kinds of places in national policy,” says Heather Noonan, the League of American Orchestras’ vice president for advocacy.

Noonan says her group cares the most about what are called O&P visas, for soloists, “the non-immigrant, temporary work visas required to bring those artists into the United States to perform.”

It is her job, she says, to make sure visas for those performers are available.

“When the curtain goes up at 7:00 on Friday, the artist needs to be there, and the audience is expecting that they’ll be there.”

The League of American Orchestras is lobbying to make that visa process as efficient, affordable, and accessible as possible.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
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I find it hard to accept that they cannot find americans to do the jobs at a horse track. If american standards of living were applied to the rest of the world then they would have a problem. I feel that it is the reality of what they want to pay said individuals. Immigrants seem to choose these dead end jobs at minimum wage and an american knows the reality of the cost of living in the united states. Not to mention american would choose more 'comfortable' jobs. If this job was really labor intensive then pay what it is worth and do not expect the american to stick around because it is a dead end job. Most people expect a job to cover the expenses of life and the growth a person wants to do. Immigrants are limited until they learn the language so they can learn what is said behind their back, which leads them to be more abused like slave labor. I probably find these same arguments all around the world and not just in america. I wish people would realize these arguments than the stupidity that seems to be driven by costs to amount of labor debates.

The debates about the musician or art based immigrants or limited stay for their events have left me wondering how much longer the classical arts can survive in the economic climates around the world. I personally know a member of a local symphony who is now getting an engineering degree because he cannot maintain a life in Classical Arts.

The general argument for needing immigrants because they cannot find qualified workers seems to be one that I barely stomach. I have been programming computers for a long time in my spare time to keep myself occupied. Also I keep up on the current trends in certain languages of my programming skills. What makes an imported technology worker so special that Zukkerburg thinks he cannot find an american to do the same task? I realize that Computer Science, computer engineering, Electrical engineering or other technological are not being taken up at the collegiate level by many students. I have seen the fallout of this personally when I went back to school to finish out my computer science and computer engineering degrees. The classes are not on the schedules because of poor enrollment.

This is my two bits of comments.

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