Strict Immigration Policies are Destroying Maryland's Crabbing Industry

Maryland crab picking factories are wanting for workers, but America's current immigration policy is keeping seasonal workers out of the country.

One unforeseen consequence of our current immigration policy is the way in which it hurts American business, the very thing these policies claim to protect. On the one hand, illegal immigrants allow business owners to hire workers at a fraction of the market rate due to these workers' precarious position. This is the sort of thing that ought to be eliminated in the interest of providing fair pay to the entire American workforce.

On the other, immigrants provide the necessary manpower for businesses that require a high volume of low-skill workers, like restaurants. The current administration's anti-immigration policies don't just target potential illegal immigrants for deportation but have made it harder for laborers to get visas for seasonal work. As of right now, foreign workers are awarded work visas via a lottery system rather than a first-come, first-served based. Trump himself has derided this practice as unsafe and open to infiltration by criminals and terrorists, drawing ire for his wishes to abolish the program. This could be a devastating blow to many severely understaffed industries across the country, as the lottery itself leaves many business wanting for workers.

For example, the Maryland crab industry has reportedly lost 40% of their workforce for this year's crab season and nearly half of the Eastern Shore's crab houses don't have enough workers. This is bad news for crab lovers, as about 50% of the United States' blue crab harvest comes from Maryland. U.S. unemployment has steadily fallen since 2008, and as it has, the demand for seasonal workers in fields that require intense manual labor has shot up.There were reportedly 81,000 applications for work visas this January with only 33,000 visas available, presenting a huge problem, not just for the federal government but for the businesses that need these foreign workers to operate. On top of this, Mexican workers who depend on these jobs–some of whom who have been coming to Maryland for 20 years–are suddenly unable to feed their families.

Even fervent supporters of Trump's stance on immigration would be forced to admit that from a utilitarian perspective, this is a disaster, not just for the crabbing industry, but for the state of Maryland. Crab prices are set to skyrocket due to the limited availability of Maryland's crabs, and companies are losing millions of dollars, all because they can't adequately staff their warehouses. In order to help alleviate the problem, Maryland Representative Andy Harris successfully campaigned for an additional 15,000 visa approvals, but it may be too little too late. By the time the workers arrive and are situated, the crabbing industry will have already taken a huge hit, as we're already more than two months into crab season. This visa approval also doesn't guarantee that the crab houses' prospects will improve next year. The current lottery system makes it incredibly difficult for Maryland crabbers to know how well they're going to be staffed in a given season.

According to Harris, efforts to raise the visa cap have been stalled by labor unions claiming that that foreign workers are being used as a means to drive down domestic wages. This however, feels more like an attempt to shift blame, as the AFL-CIO is pretty firmly pro-immigration. In fact, most major unions strive to organize immigrants, undocumented or not. There may be local groups or factions attacking immigration, but the idea that these fringe groups are powerful enough to stop the passing of meaningful legislation is far fetched.

Regardless of what Andy Harris can get done in Washington, crab picking houses can't continue to operate at a loss if the Maryland crabbing industry is to survive. This much is clear. The stringent immigration restrictions obviously don't help Mexican workers trying to find seasonal jobs. And for all the lip service politicians have given to helping American businesses, these same laws have crippled one of Maryland's biggest industries. As a result, we're left with one question: who is the current immigration policy designed to help?

Matt Clibanoff is a writer and editor based in New York City who covers music, politics, sports and pop culture. His editorial work can be found in Inked Magazine, Pop Dust, The Liberty Project, and All Things Go. His fiction has been published in Forth Magazine. -- Find Matt at his website and on Twitter: @mattclibanoff

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