Yakama Nation Pursues Foreign Guest Worker Program

The Tribal Council of the Yakama Nation has approved the development of a guest-worker program that would require licenses or permits for foreign workers and non-Tribal citizens working on reservation lands.

The Yakama Nation’s territory contains much fertile agricultural land that is famred by a significant force of migrant workers during the growing seasons. The size of this non-Tribal workforce presents significant tracking problems for the Nation, and the presence of undocumented workers on Nation’s 1.2 million-acre reservation presents challenges in determining whether they legally present on both US and the Nation’s territory. The guest worker program is intended to increase accountability and ensure the legality of workers laboring on the Nation’s land.

The Yakama’s guest worker proposals may be the first of its kind in Indian country, but its long-term viability is as yet uncertain. According to the federal government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement department, Native American Tribes are typically not viewed as sovereign nations on issues of immigration law. The authority of the Yakama Nation to enforce U.S. immigration laws or implement its own is presently under review.

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