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Maine Joins States Dependent on Immigrant Workers

photo of a plate of lobsters

Recently, The New York Times reported that immigrants have become crucial to Maine’s lobster industry. Jenna Smialek wrote:

Folks born in Maine are generally not looking for manufacturing work, especially in food manufacturing,” said Ben Conniff, a founder of Luke’s Lobster, explaining that the firm’s lobster processing plant has been staffed mostly by immigrants since it opened in 2013, and that foreign-born workers help keep “the natural resources economy going.”

Smialek wrote that Maine has the oldest population of any U.S. state with a median age of 45.1, and older populations are increasingly uninterested in physical labor. Immigrants have become crucial to the lobster industry and the state’s economy.

This story sounds familiar. Louisiana's crawfish industry is heavily reliant on workers from Mexico and Central America in the country on H-2A and H-2B seasonal "guest worker" visas. The New Orleans Advocate's James Finn wrote in 2023, "Losing them would 'devastate' the industry, said Dr. Mike Strain, the state’s agriculture and forestry commissioner. Strain said that when farmers can’t hire enough guest workers, they resort to shipping their haul to Mexico to have crawfish meat processed there before sending it back stateside." 

Throughout 2023 while Conservatives railed against immigrants, many state governors tried to figure out how immigrants could help address labor shortages in their states, strengthening their economies in the process. In September, New York was trying to figure out how to make it possible for employers to hire migrants; in April, Utah was trying to to solve the same problem with the Venezuelan population in the state, and in February Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds wanted to make it possible for Afghan refugees to help address the 75,000 person labor shortage the state faced.

The obstacles the states face are largely self-imposed. Because immigration is a strong motivator for some Conservative voters, Republican politicians have generally been reluctant to even gesture toward any kind of accommodation for immigrants and asylum seekers, the state governors included.

That said, the pressure at the state level is a start and a positive sign. The pressure to embrace comprehensive immigration reform to find ways to fit immigrants into the 21st century American story can’t only come from liberals, nor can they be the only ones to imagine solutions.

Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash.

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