Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Immigration. (Run!)

The Department of Homeland Security and of Immigration and Customs Enforcement are reported to be conducting a sweep of Key West, identifying those who are here illegally, and ordering them deported. I haven't heard this from an official source, but one of those caught up in the sweep is artist Joe Forte. I've written about Joe in the past.

Joe is Canadian. His permanent home is in the Toronto area and some of his children and grandchildren live there. He's been coming to Key West for a number of years now. He paints at various places in town, Blue Heaven, Casa Marina, and sells his work -- originals and reproductions of paintings, and his books -- on the street and in places where he hangs out, coffee shops, bars, Mallory Square, and on the streets. He holds a license from the City for the last.

I don't know the full story, but he said this morning that he's been given two days to obtain a work visa, or he has to leave the country. He told me that it used to be the law that a tourist visa was good for 180 days, but has been cut back to 90. Joe lives out of his van, and doesn't make a lot of money. This is going to hit him hard in the wallet. There isn't a huge market for paintings and prints of tropical scenes in Toronto, particularly during the winter.

If this sweep IS going on, it should be in the papers in the morning. And if it is going on, there are going to be quite a few jobs opening up in Key West in the near future.

There is an editorial in the latest issue of Bahama VIllage Voices that talks about the buses that pick up workers -- Haitians and Eastern Europeans -- in south Miami and transport them to jobs in the Keys, then back to the mainland at the end of their work day. In addition, there is a significant populations of what might be called guest workers in the Keys. Many of them have working papers, green cards or other designations that are authorized by law. Many don't, though. They come, get hired, work quietly, and send money home, wherever home might be.

One effect of this, of course, to hold down wages for those who live here. Jobs held by guest workers would go begging unless wage rates increased significantly. That changes the economic equation. Might help; could hurt.

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