Cape Cod Times - Kerry Lobbies for H-2B Relief
By Patrick Cassidy
Staff Writer, Cape Cod Times
One of Massachusetts' top legislators has asked for more help from federal immigration officials to solve Cape Cod's potential guest worker shortages this summer.
In a letter sent yesterday to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., requested a meeting to discuss what could be done to "give relief to Massachusetts business owners."
"I've heard particularly from the people on the Cape," Kerry said in a telephone interview yesterday. "I'm going to try to put the heat on."
Kerry made specific mention of Cape Cod and the Islands in his letter, pointing out the region's businesses rely heavily on seasonal employees during the tourism season.
"They require anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 H-2B visa temporary workers every season to meet tourism needs," Kerry wrote. "Without this relief, they will not be able to meet this demand and the local economy will suffer."
There is a 66,000 cap on H-2B visas available each year. An exemption in place for returning workers has expired and Cape businesses are concerned they may not have enough staff this summer.
The H-2B visa issue has been tied up by the larger debate over immigration reform, Kerry said. "We've got to get around that and recognize that it's got an urgency to it," he said.
Kerry and others had hoped to get the problem fixed legislatively but that has not worked so far, he said. "The key here is to get this administratively."
Regarding the presidential election and whether it could affect the wider immigration debate, Kerry said it certainly would, "no matter what."
"We'll get immigration reform done with the next president," he said.
Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., worked with U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., on a comprehensive immigration reform bill last year, but it failed to gain enough support to become law.
Although Kerry was sure a Democrat would make it to the White House, he said McCain's candidacy made it a sure thing immigration reform would pass in the next administration.
Kerry said he would follow up his letter with a telephone call today and hoped to meet with Chertoff next week.