Immigration raid worries landscapers relying on foreign help
Already facing a severe labor shortage, landscaping businesses that can’t keep up with booming demand for backyard patios and fire pits worry that an immigration raid that rounded up over 100 people last week will make it even tougher to persuade Congress to allow more foreign workers into America for seasonal jobs.
Owners of landscaping companies near Tuesday’s sting in the Lake Erie resort city of Sandusky and nearby Castalia, which targeted workers with forged documents in one of the largest actions at a workplace in recent years, said it sent a shiver of apprehension through their industry.
“I believe most of us are doing things the right way, but every company is going to be worried that they’re going to be raided,” said Joe Drake, who runs JFD Landscapes in Chardon, also in northern Ohio.
Drake, who has been maintaining lawns for nearly 30 years, spent the past week in Chicago meeting with other seasonal employers to try crafting a strategy that would persuade Congress to ease restrictions on H2-B temporary visas, a type set aside for foreign workers who have seasonal, nonagricultural jobs.
While many seasonal employers and tourism businesses were shut out of the program this year, landscapers were hit especially hard because they rely on the program more than many other industries to fill jobs they say nobody else wants.
“I’m not condoning breaking the law in any way, shape, or form, but we need a program that works,” Drake said. “How do you think this work is going to get done?”
This year, a federal lottery for the first time determined which employers would get their allotment, initially capped at 66,000 workers until the Department of Homeland Security announced two weeks ago it would allow another 15,000 additional visas.
That still leaves a shortage, though, after the elimination last year of a “returning worker exemption” that allowed workers to come back to their job without counting against the cap.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said that it expects to charge the 114 workers arrested last week at Corso’s Flower & Garden Center with identity theft and tax evasion and that the employer also is under investigation.