BROWNSVILLE, Texas -- Americans taking jobs as shrimpers off the Texas coast are calling it quits, saying the job is just too tough. The jobs they're quitting are usually filled by seasonal migrant workers, who some companies consider more reliable employees.
Shrimping operators claim that federal policies are making it tough to hire more migrants and it’s leading to troubled waters.
Some Texas shrimp boats are returning to shore after just two weeks at sea to unload freshly-caught shrimp and newly-hired shrimpers, like 46-year-old Paul Jones.
“It’s back-breaking work man,” Jones admitted. “I have too much education for this.”
The Mississippi native called it quits after just 17 days on the job. The boat he worked on, the Dorada Cruz, wasn’t supposed to return to shore until mid-August.
“The people here, the American guys, you know why they’re not working? Because they feel the same way like I do,” Jones said. “It’s not worth it.”
It’s a problem shrimp companies have struggled with lately; a shortage of migrant workers caused, in part, by "hire American" policies that, companies claim, force them to rely on inexperienced labor.
“These are one or two positions we need to fill per boat. We’re not talking about any significant number of people,” said Texas Gulf Trawling Vice-President Greg Londrie. “But what that production does here on land and how it rotates through commerce, through our stores, through processing plants where many, many more American jobs are tied to.”
Londrie says that 11 of the 21 first-time workers hired just two weeks ago have already quit.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security approved Londrie's company’s petition for 20 migrant workers after Congress failed to address the demand in time for the start of shrimping season.
“For decades, the United States operated, and has operated, a very low-skilled immigration system, issuing a record number of green cards to low-wage immigrants,” said President Donald Trump at a White House press conference on Wednesday.
President Trump, along with senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, announced the RAISE bill, legislation to reform legal immigration by prioritizing high-skilled, English-proficient, and economically stable foreigners.
Spokespersons for both senators assured that this will be totally separate from the seasonal workers program that deals with industries like shrimping.
Over in Brownsville, shrimpers believe that the federal government’s priorities are misguided. It's why they say they have to sometimes take risks by hiring Americcan workers, knowing they may quit and the business may suffer as a result.
“I wouldn’t... wouldn’t want to do it again,” Jones confessed. “I’m quite sure some more people would say the same thing. Just being honest. I would tell you not to try.”
Londrie said that it could take another three weeks or so before he can hire the migrant workers he needs. In the meantime, his company is focused on finding workers now to replace the ones they've already lost.