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Trump adds 15,000 work visas. But is it too late for shell-shocked crabbers on Hoopers Island?

Businesses were desperate for the additional H-2B visas to bring in temporary workers from Mexico to pick crabs — a mainstay of the local economy — as they have done for decades.
by Dartunorro Clark /
Banner Year Forecast For Lower Chesapeake Blue Crabs
Waterman Monroe Dorsey releases undersized blue crabs from their commercial boat near Hooper Island, Maryland, on June 8, 2016.Linda Davidson / The Washington Post/Getty Images

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President Donald Trump's Department of Homeland Security announced Friday it was making available an additional 15,000 visas for a seasonal work program that were badly needed by businesses, particularly in the Trump-voting crab town of Hoopers Island.

"The limitations on H-2B visas were originally meant to protect American workers, but when we enter a situation where the program unintentionally harms American businesses it needs to be reformed," said DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in granting the additional visas. "As Secretary, I remain committed to protecting U.S. workers and strengthening the integrity of our lawful immigration system and look forward to working with Congress to do so."

After demand exceeded the available supply of 66,000 visas, DHS used a lottery system to award them to businesses, rather than on a a first come, first served basis. The change hit Hoopers Island, Maryland, hard as NBC News reported earlier this month, leaving it without 40 percent of the visas its crab-picking businesses need to operate.

Business owners on Hoopers Island, which is known for its crabbing industry, previously told NBC News that the lack of visas was ruining their livelihoods because they had relied on the seasonal work program for decades to bring in temporary foreign hires, mostly Mexican women, to pick crab meat.

"Right now, we're shut down," said Morgan Tolley, manager of A.E. Phillips and Sons Seafood. "We're in self-preservation mode."

Tolley could not be reached for comment on Friday afternoon. A voice message at the business cited the shortage of H-2B visas as the reason for its limited operations.

Some business owners on the island had said they were fearful that any additional visas would not help because crabbing season is already underway and because of the long journey for workers from Mexico to Hoopers Island.

Trump won Dorchester County, which includes all of Hoopers Island, in the 2016 election largely based off of his pledge to help small businesses.

"(President Trump's) vow was to create American jobs, but this is not creating American jobs,” Phillips said earlier this month.

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