One Employer's View of Guest-Worker Plan

Mike Voisin, CEO of Motivatit Seafoods in Houma, La., hired 30 workers from Mexico after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita scattered the local labor force. How might potential changes in immigration law change his business?

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Ms. LUCILLA SALAZAR-CIMRO(ph) (Guest Worker): (Spanish spoken)

Ms. FORTUNATA GONZALES-GARCI (Guest Worker): (Spanish spoken)

Ms. MARIA DE LOS ANGELES PLATERO-ORTEGA (Guest Worker): (Spanish spoken)

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Last year, when we visited Motivatit Seafoods in Houma, Louisiana, we met a group of Mexican women who were brought into the United States with H2B visas, part of the guest-worker program. Mike Voisin is CEO of the company, and he joins us by phone. Nice to talk to you again, Mike.

Mr. MIKE VOISIN (CEO, Motivatit Seafoods, Houma, Louisiana): It's good to be with you, Liane.

HANSEN: After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, you hired almost 30 workers from Mexico through this program. Tell us about the situation and what the program meant to your business.

Mr. VOISIN: If it wasn't for the guest-worker program, our business would be on the verge of collapse, the processing part of our business. They were very challenged. You know, we lost hundreds of thousands of people. We had to move away as a result of the storm, and they couldn't come back because their homes weren't repaired. And when they did come back, they had to repair their homes. And so we were very short on labor, and it was a real godsend for us.

HANSEN: And you had worked with this program before?

Mr. VOISIN: We had worked with it at the harvest level, and we were lucky to have 30 or 35 spaces available to bring in people to do the processing. But we had never worked at the processing level with it, so it worked perfectly for us.

HANSEN: Do you still have Mexican workers in the plant?

Mr. VOISIN: We do have a few right now that are here. Most of them have gone back. We look forward during seasonal peaks to bringing some back, but most of them have gone back. The big push that we needed after the hurricanes at the processing level is not over, but it's not near as what it was because people have come back. There were - homes are repaired, and they're moving themselves back into the workforce now.

HANSEN: So you have more locals working for you now.

Mr. VOISIN: Many more than we did post-Hurricane Katrina and Rita, yes, ma'am.

HANSEN: Let's talk about the immigration bill that the senators are debating. In the bill, they're going to reduce by half the number of guest workers that would be allowed in the United States from 400,000 to 200,000. How will this affect your business?

Mr. VOISIN: It could have serious impacts nationally in the seafood community. Specifically, in our business, it could have impacts as well, depending on how the bill finally comes out. For every one less person, you have six less American jobs that are supported by that one immigrant. When people ask me about what jobs are supported, well, the packaging material that my company uses, the transportation companies we use, the FedEx - companies - you know, the companies that move our product, the restaurants that use our product won't be able to get as much. So that one person, actually, in the chain of employment, helps support about six different jobs.

HANSEN: You have worked through the legal means to hire through the program. From a business perspective, has it been working for you, or do you think that change is really needed in the way that immigrants are allowed in this country to work?

Mr. VOISIN: Well, I think there's change that's needed. The H2B program is on an annual renewal basis in Congress, and that gets a little hairy. We need more permanent ability to be able to plan our future input of immigrants into what we do. And so I think it's important that an immigration bill goes through.

One of the fears a lot of people have is that there'll be all these people that'll be made legal that aren't legal. And that's a concern, but at the same time, they're out there now illegally. Let's make them legal. Let's make them participate in our economy. And we need immigrants. We need those people to come in. As a country, we need the foundation of manufacturing, and we're becoming more a service and technology-based country. But if we lose that manufacturing base, we're going to be in a very non-competitive with other foreign countries.

So we need to continue to remember that all of us are descended from immigrants, somebody that came to these shores and was able to take advantage of that golden door that the Statue of Liberty represents.

HANSEN: So ultimately, what kind of immigration policy would you like to see?

Mr. VOISIN: Well, I think I'd like to see a fair one, one that allows to be able to take care of those jobs in this country that are in high demand that we can't get enough workforce to accomplish.

HANSEN: Mike Voisin is CEO of Motivatit Seafoods in Houma, Louisiana. Thanks again, Mike.

Mr. VOISIN: Thank you, Liane.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: There's more on the issues surrounding the immigration debate on our Web site, npr.org.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You're listening to NPR News.

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