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Know the West

Migrant labor activists win lawsuit for foreign shepherds

Ranchers must now bring in immigrant sheepherders under permanent visas.


Sheepherders near Meeker, Colorado.

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For decades, Western sheep ranchers were allowed to bring in herders, mainly from Latin America, on temporary work visas. In most states, the pay averaged $750 a month, only $100 more than it was in 1965. But thanks to new regulations and combined lawsuits filed in Colorado and Utah, monthly wages were set to rise to $1,500 by 2018. Still, activists question whether the changes go far enough in addressing the abuse of foreign labor. (“Far from home, the West’s foreign sheepherders get a pay raise,” 2/22/16).


In a November press release, the Hispanic Affairs Project announced that it had settled its lawsuit against the federal government over the use of temporary guest worker visas. Under the settlement, ranchers will no longer be able to use temporary or seasonal visas to fill labor needs. Instead, they will have to hire American sheepherders or bring workers into the country on permanent visas. Before, workers on temporary guest worker visas were effectively indentured to the same ranch for years, without bargaining power or a path to permanent residency.

Kalen Goodluck is an editorial fellow at High Country News. Email him at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.