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By Dartunorro Clark
Aubrey Vincent is bracing for the unthinkable.
She first started working for her family’s small business, Lindy’s Seafood, at age 12. She watched it blossom into a regional staple in the crab town of Fishing Creek, Maryland, before taking it over. But for the second year in a row, companies like hers that rely on temporary foreign labor are poised to take a hard hit, or possibly close altogether.
“I’m second-generation and, at this point, it’s hard to think that maybe I can’t do this anymore, but that’s essentially where we are,” Vincent, 31, told NBC News. “We’re in a worse position than we were last year.”
The Trump administration is once again planning to use a lottery system to dole out 33,000 H-2B visas — the government program that allows businesses like Lindy’s Seafood to hire those temporary foreign workers — this spring, rather than the first-come, first-serve model used under previous administrations. Businesses strained by the change last year will find themselves competing against record demand this year, according to the Department of Labor statistics. Compounding the problem, experts said, is that Congress is no closer to reforming the program than it has been since it was enacted it in 1990, despite pleas from seasonal businesses and their associations to act.
“Last year, we lost six months of sales, business and income,” Vincent said. “To have to go through that again this year, it’s just a matter of how long can you work two months a year before you fold?”
President Donald Trump has long complained about the loss of American jobs to immigrants and overseas workers, despite documented evidence of his businesses relying on foreign labor and also using the H-2B program.
But Vincent said the visas help American businesses like hers stay afloat, which in turn also supports American jobs. She said she has exhausted efforts to recruit American workers because most are not interested in the laborious task of processing hundreds of barrels of fresh crab.
Due to the revenue hit in 2018, for instance, many of her full-time American workers had to leave last year to find different work.
“It was awful and I’m worried I can’t ask them to come back this year,” she said about her full-time workers. “If it’s going to be more of the same I don’t want to see their families have to struggle.”
This year, the H-2B program received requests for nearly 100,000 foreign workers, roughly three times the number of visas available. Congress sets the limit at 66,000 and it’s divided between the spring and fall. The demand this year, which briefly crashed the online Department of Labor application system, has put some businesses that rely heavily on them, such as landscaping and carnivals, in survival mode.
Vincent requested 105 foreign workers — a typical number for her — and will have to wait until April to find out if she will get them before her season kicks into high gear.
“I’m hoping people realize that these programs have the ability to benefit everyone if they’re well-run and done efficiently,” she said. “They create American jobs and create a lot of opportunity in our community.”
Bill Sieling, the executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association in Maryland, implored Congress to fix the program or it could spell the end of some local industries that need the program to survive.
“It’s just a broken system,” he said. “And it’s extremely unfair to the businesses.”
He added, “If you get below a certain threshold you’re no longer an industry, you’re a cottage; you’re no longer a viable player in the industry and lose whatever marketing advantage you have. And that’s probably what would happen if we don’t come up with a solution for this.”
The Department of Homeland Security, through Congress, has the authority to issue the visas. Last year, they issued an additional 15,000 visas to offer relief to businesses due to demand. In a statement to NBC News on Friday, the agency said it’s committed to “upholding our nation’s immigration laws” while also thoroughly reviewing “employment-based visa programs” to make sure they align with Trump’s pledge to put American workers first.
“USCIS will continue adjudicating all applications fairly, efficiently, and effectively on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet all standards required under applicable law, policies, and regulations,” said Michael Bars, a spokesperson for DHS’ U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“USCIS continues to grant the statutory level of H-2B visas set by Congress.”
Last year, landscaping was the top industry requesting workers, according to Department of Labor data. However, the industry has felt a real crunch over the past two years, Andrew Bray, a vice president at the National Association of Landscape Professionals, said.
Hill push to battle foreign election interference is stuck at McConnell roadblock
WASHINGTON — Not every Republican agrees with President Trump that foreigners have a role to play in American elections.
In fact, some GOP senators have joined with Democrats to co-sponsor legislation designed to shore up voting machines and make it harder for foreign intelligence operatives to hack, leak and manipulate social media the way the Russians did in 2016.
But those bills are going nowhere — because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not allowed a vote on any of them.
“At this point, I don’t see any likelihood that those bills would get to the floor if we mark them up,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who serves under McConnell in the Senate leadership, said last month.
McConnell himself has avoided commenting directly on the bills. He declined to respond to questions about them at his weekly news conference this week, although he announced that senators would get a briefing on election security.
The election security and foreign interference legislation is garnering renewed attention in the wake of Trump’s comments Wednesday to ABC News that he saw nothing wrong with accepting incriminating information about a political opponent from Russia or other foreign governments.
“It’s not an interference. They have information,” Trump said. “I think I’d take it.”
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, immediately tweeted in response to Trump’s comments that “if the president and his campaign can’t be trusted to do the right thing,” Congress should pass his bill, which would require political campaigns to report to the FBI and federal election authorities any attempt of contact by foreign nationals offering services or information.
On Thursday, in the wake of Trump’s comments, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Warner made a request to pass the measure; Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., objected.
That measure doesn’t have any Republican co-sponsors. But Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., a Trump ally, has joined with Democrats in co-sponsoring the “Defending the Integrity of Voting Systems Act,” which would make it a federal crime to hack any voting systems used in a federal election.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., meanwhile, has co-sponsored the “Deter Act,” which would require the U.S. director of National Intelligence to determine, within 30 days of any federal election, whether Russia or other foreign government had engaged in election interference.
If interference was discovered, the act would require that mandatory sanctions be imposed within 10 days on Russian banks and energy companies, among other targets.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., has sponsored a bill that would craft voluntary security guidelines for voting systems — a measure that does not go far enough for most Democrats.
On the social media front, a bill by Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a Democratic candidate for president, would require that political ads placed on platforms such as Facebook and YouTube be subject to the same disclosure requirements as television spots. That would allow the public to learn who was paying for the ads and how much was spent.
The Democratic-controlled House has passed several election security and foreign interference measures, but few if any of them have a chance of becoming law. The Democrats did insert $600 million for election security in a must-pass spending bill, but that will have to be negotiated.
According to published reports, McConnell refused in September 2016 to sign on to a bipartisan warning about Russian election interference when the Obama administration requested one from Congress.
McConnell’s office has pushed back by pointing to a September 2016 letter, signed by congressional leaders from both parties, and sent to the president of the National Association of State Election Directors that warned state officials about possible hacking efforts, but did not mention Russia.
For his part, even before he decreed it morally acceptable to make use of opposition research from foreign intelligence operatives, Trump has displayed little interest in the issue of how to protect American elections from outside interference.
While individual agencies such as the FBI have stepped up efforts to combat foreign influence, there is no evidence of a coordinated policy response out of the White House — something experts say is badly needed to grapple with difficult issues surrounding social media and free speech — and the local control afforded to America’s county-by-county voting system.
FBI Director Christopher Wray and top intelligence officials have said they expect Russia and other nations to attempt to meddle in the 2020 presidential election, building on the successful playbook that Russia employed in 2016.
Tory leadership contest: How next Tory leader can be more successful than Theresa May
Press secretary Sarah Sanders is leaving the White House
WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is leaving her post at the end of June, President Donald Trump said Thursday.
“After 3 1/2 years, our wonderful Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be leaving the White House at the end of the month and going home to the Great State of Arkansas,” Trump tweeted, including the time Sanders worked on his campaign in addition to her service during his first two-plus years in office.
“She is a very special person with extraordinary talents, who has done an incredible job! I hope she decides to run for Governor of Arkansas — she would be fantastic. Sarah, thank you for a job well done!”
At a White House event minutes later, Sanders said she would “try not to get emotional, because I know crying can make us look weak sometimes.”
“[Trump] has accomplished so much in these two-and-a-half years, and it has truly been something I will treasure forever … ” she said, her voice cracking. “I have loved every minute, including the hard minutes.”
Sanders’ tenure at the White House was marked by contentious public confrontations with the media over the president’s agenda and her own misstatements, as well as a diminishing number of official briefings for the press. She has not briefed the media for 94 days — since March 11 — more than double the previous longest dry stint of the Trump administration.
In May 2017, she told reporters that “countless” FBI officials had told her that they had lost confidence in then-FBI Director Jim Comey — a comment that suggested the president had good reason to fire him other than the Russia investigation. Special counsel Robert Mueller later reported that Sanders acknowledged she had no evidence for the claim.
It was one of many occasions on which journalists questioned the credibility of Sanders’ assertions from the White House podium.
But Sanders could also act as a ready and reliable conduit for information behind the scenes with some of the same outlets she clashed with in front of television cameras.
A daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sanders, 36, became a surrogate for Trump on television during his 2016 campaign for the presidency and joined his White House team in January 2017 as a deputy assistant to the president and deputy press secretary. She was promoted into the press secretary role in July 2017, succeeding Sean Spicer.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, was re-elected in 2018 and cannot seek re-election in 2022. Sanders has not announced any plans to seek office.
Lauren Egan contributed.
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