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.

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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