Seasonal worker worries
On the one hand, there are those who will not move on immigration reform until the fence is built and 20 million illegal residents are expelled.
On the other hand, there are those who will not support fences, employer penalties, ID cards, or any other immigration discipline, unless those currently in residence illegally are given a forgiving track to permanent residence or the right to work.
This standoff in Congress since the failure of President Bush's proposed immigration reform legislation, together with the presidential primary battles, have diverted politicians' attentions from the work they are supposed to do. Among the consequences of this misfeasance, Steve Myrick reports today, Island business operators who follow the federal immigration rules, in pursuit of badly needed seasonal labor, may be forced to manage with smaller workforces than they need.
The annual seasonal labor crunch is a struggle for business owners anyway, and this year it is likely to be worse, because an expired exemption and a federal cap on H-2B temporary worker visas will make it much more difficult to hire seasonal foreign workers. And these are not the employers who hire and, merely by doing so, exploit illegal workers. Business owners usually apply for these visas and pay the costs on behalf of their workers. But the rules and timelines make the process difficult and uncertain, and even the most conscientious and efficient business managers may find themselves defeated before they've begun, as is the case this year, at least so far.
The feds told businesses that the annual cap on the number of H-2B visas for seasonal, non-agricultural workers was reached last week. Congress may, but so far has not taken steps to alleviate the problem.
This is not a Martha's Vineyard or even a New England resorts problem alone. Sixty-six thousand visas for seasonal work have been granted annually. In a recent fiscal year, about 10 percent of those visas were approved for Massachusetts businesses.
Congress can fix this problem, even without wading into the deep waters of comprehensive immigration reform, but its distracted members need to hear from you, and from folks like you across the country.
"The immigration debate has poisoned the well, even for any modest immigration initiative," Mark Forest, chief of staff for 10th District Congressman William Delahunt, told The Times. Mr. Forest said that the congressman's proposal to deal with the seasonal worker visas is, or ought to be, doable. "It's a very modest and legitimate proposal, but there are many members (of Congress) who have blocked passage of it, who are arguing that we need comprehensive immigration reform. The climate on immigration is so volatile, that it has been very difficult."
The politics may be difficult, but the issue is not. Congress can and must address this widely used, badly needed, and successful seasonal worker practice. And soon, if businesses in seasonal economies like this one are to find and train the workers they need in time to succeed this summer. Customers as well as business owners will suffer the inconvenience, inefficiency, and increased costs that will result from Congressional inaction.