Congressional Hispanic Caucus blocks vote to increase visa number

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has blocked voting on legislation that would allow employers to rehire foreign seasonal workers. This year, the U.S. government will only issue 33,000 visas for winter workers and 33,000 for summer workers. This comes as a stark comparison to 2007, when 120,000 foreign workers entered the U.S. with H-2B visas.

Currently, the reduction in visas is having profounds effects on both Mexico and U.S.

In Tlapacoyan, a Mexican town which in the last 30 years has exported a large seasonal workforce, using H-2B visas, to work in U.S. circuses and carnivals, the effects are already a stark reality. The local economy has been paralyzed, and unemployment has reached dramatic highs. The lack of money being pumped into the local economy has caused many businesses to close, and the construction of the town's new church has come to a screeching halt. Additionally, residents like Pablo Juarez Mendoza, who last year made $450 working in Texan livestock shows, are having difficulties finding local work. Those that do, are only making an average of $50 per week.

U.S. businesses are getting ready to face their own set of economical obstacles caused by the lack of cheap labor. Many employers are finding creative ways to cut costs, including scaling back operations. In Cape Cod, for example, the local chamber of commerce reports that town employers will only receive 15 of the 5,000 visas requested. In response, local Cape Cod business owner, Williman Zammer, has called the situation "a major crisis," and states that what the Hispanic Caucus is doing is "ruthless."

Opponents of the change state that recent legislation blocking is part of the Caucus' efforts to push for comprehensive immigration reform, not seen in the U.S. since the early 1980s. Hispanic Caucus Chairman, Rep. Joe Baca, D-California, hopes that policymakers will place attention not only on helping small businesses, but also on what to do with 12 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the U.S., and improving border security.

The issue of immigration has become a polarizing subject in the U.S., and one that has been an intrinsic part of the fabric that makes up the American society. Since 2006, the U.S. accepts more legal immigrants as permanent residents than any other country in the world. That same year, a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll revealed that the U.S. public was equally divided on the whether immigration helps or hurts the country. Forty-four percent said it helped, forty-five percent said it hurt.

However, a recent Pew Research Center study suggests that the issue will remain at the forefront of the American political agenda for many years to come.

The study revealed that by 2050, one in five Americans will be foreign-born, and the overall U.S. population will double to 438 million. The U.S Latino population will account for 30% of the population, while Asians will account for 9%. Thus, what we see unfolding is a U.S. where minorities will become the majority, and drastic cultural and societal changes seem almost certain.

The study seems to also hint that this growth is in many ways connected to legislation passed by Congress in 1965, that abolished a quota system that had nearly ended immigration from non-European countries since the 1920s, and consequently caused an immigration surge.


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