Texas economy braces for immigration bill impact
— reported by the Houston Chronicle
Many business leaders are lamenting last week’s death of the landmark Senate immigration bill and predicting dire consequences for the Texas economy.
Already, labor shortages have caused onions to rot in the fields, delayed wheat harvests and docked Gulf shrimp boats because of a lack of crews, they say.
A wide variety of Texas industries expressed concern about the loss of the bill’s provision to accept 200,000 foreign guest workers each year. The existing agricultural guest worker program is small, cumbersome and ill-suited for today’s employers, some industry leaders said, worrying they will have to wait years for reform and relief.
The bill also would have allowed illegal immigrants already in the U.S. to apply for temporary work visas.
Still, Texas agricultural producers say a shortage of field workers will only get worse.
”Losing the guest worker program is going to be very difficult to my industry, the fresh fruit and vegetable businesses in Texas,” said John McClung, president of the Texas Produce Association in McAllen. ”We have known for a long while that approximately 70 percent of our field labor is illegal.”
Without an effective guest worker program, McClung said, Texas growers will continue to move production to Mexico.
”If we do not have labor in the United States, we will go elsewhere,” he said. “That is outsourcing the fruit and vegetable production, and that’s what is happening.”
But this year, government delays in processing visa applications have left many shrimp boats inactive. At Texas Gulf Trawlers in Port Isabel, 16 of the 23 shrimp trawlers are tied to the dock because visas for 46 Mexican workers have not been issued, company officials said.
”They’re just sitting out there waiting,” said Julissa Ochoa, an administrative assistant at the company. ”We’re looking for people, U.S. citizens who want to get on our boats and work .”
The hardship and dangers of fishing trips up to two months in the Gulf of Mexico on 70-foot shrimp trawlers do not appeal to locals, Ochoa said.
“The response is not very good,” she said of local recruitment efforts. ”Nobody wants to shrimp anymore.”
But while the current guest worker program does not apply to the construction industry here, Trevino said Houston’s housing booms in recent decades would not have happened without illegal immigrants.
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