Lamar Smith is a bit of an enigma this session of Congress. He's pushing the usual tough enforcement bills. But he's also shown a willingness to move legal immigration bills like the H-1C nurse visa extension and now a bill to reform the the H-2A visa category, one that is badly broken and almost useless to America's farmers. The system is so complicated and the rules are so onerous that it is almost completely unused despte well documented shortages of farm workers around the country. Anti-immigrants accuse farmers of simply wanting to evade the law and hire cheap labor. But this is a game of survival for our farmers and unless we want to be in the same situation we're in with energy and be totally dependent on other countries to feed us, we need to deal with this reality.

Lamar Smith has introduced HR 2847, a new agricultural worker program that will be called the H-2C and will replace the H-2A program. Hearings were held last week on the bill. One of the most important aspects of the bill is removing the anti-immigration Department of Labor from managing the program and replacing it with the US Department of Agriculture.

Capital Press describes the bill's major provisions:

H-2C would allow 500,000 visas per year and ease wage, housing and transportation requirements. An H-2A rule requiring growers provide employment to U.S. workers who apply until 50 percent of H-2A workers' contract period has elapsed would be eliminated. Workers would not be allowed to bring their families with them to the U.S.

Smith does not want to amend the H-2C onto his E-Verify bill for political and parliamentarian reasons, but the two bills need to pass simultaneously, Sequeira said.

H-2C would allow workers into the U.S. for 10 months and then require them to go back to Mexico for two months before being allowed back into the U.S. for another 10 months.

Labor groups have already come out against the bill over the wage and housing revisions. And farmers' groups, while generally supportive, are working to change provisions such as expanding the ten month limit to a twelve months per year system. 

Smith is likely to try and move his E-Verify mandate bill in lockstep with the H-2C agricultural worker bill. Both will have a tough time passing in the Senate.