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The Rodeo and the immigrants

Interesting story about who’s working the carnival midway.

Why, you might wonder, is a South African working at the Houston rodeo’s midway?

“The American workforce is not interested in this kind of work,” said Chris Lopez, vice president of carnival provider Ray Cammack Shows (RCS). “We couldn’t do it without these folks.”

Condon is one of the 300 foreign workers RCS employs to run midways for fairs across the U.S. (The crew also includes a few U.S.-born workers, but they are significantly outnumbered.)

For 18 years, RCS has relied on the H2B visa program for non-agricultural temporary workers. Visa holders from countries including Mexico, Costa Rica, Australia and Russia handle everything from building and running carnival rides to cooking and selling carnival food.

To get those visas, employers must satisfy the U.S. Department of Labor that the work can’t be filled by U.S. workers, and that foreign workers won’t have adverse effects on the wages and working conditions of their U.S.-born counterparts.

As required by those rules, Lopez pays to advertise carnival jobs in the U.S., and he keeps phone logs and certified receipts for email and letters that show he’s reached out to local communities and followed through with all work inquiries from U.S. citizens.

But the responses he gets from U.S. citizens aren’t enough, he says. Too many people shun nine months of work requiring heavy lifting, living in mobile homes and frequent travel.

Lopez is hardly alone. A 2013 study by the nonprofit ImmigrationWorks USA found that as more American-born workers attain higher levels of education, more foreign workers are needed to perform less-skilled labor.

There’s stiff competition for the 66,000 H2B visas available each year. (The visa is distinct from its H2A counterpart which is meant for seasonal agricultural work and has even stricter requirements for employers.) The last of the visas available for fiscal year 2017 were awarded this earlier this month, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Would-be workers face tough screening, Lopez said: “Anything as little as a jaywalking ticket could disqualify them.”

From fiscal year 2012 to 2015, Texas had the highest number of H2B jobs certified by the Department of Labor. The largest number of those was for landscaping.

Industries such as outdoor entertainment account for 10 percent of total H2B visas issued to U.S. employers each year.

I don’t have a specific point to make here. This sort of thing is invisible to most of us – be honest, you didn’t know this, right? If all these H2B visas were to disappear – which they won’t, since Dear Leader Trump makes heavy use of them to staff his golf courses – RCS and other firms that supply H2B laborers would find a solution. Maybe they’d pay American workers more, maybe they’d rely more on temps, maybe the businesses they support would scale back, maybe something else. One way or another, things would be different. I just thought it was worth pointing that out.

The travel ban and the rural doctor shortage

Just another unintended consequence.

In Texas and across the country, foreign-trained doctors like the Iranian-born [Dr. Hossein] Yazdani fill a critical need in rural communities, which often struggle to attract physicians born and trained in the U.S. That reality has been highlighted in the weeks since President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning travel from several predominantly Muslim countries.

A revised version of the order issued Monday was intended to keep terrorists from entering the country, but it also threatens to block international medical graduates, who help fill a growing physician shortage.

Yazdani is a classic example. He came to Houston for a prestigious fellowship at Texas Heart Institute. When he completed the training in 1997, he was given two choices: Return to Iran, or apply for a J-1 visa waiver, which allows international doctors to stay in the U.S. in exchange for working as primary care physicians in medically underserved areas.

Yazdani went to work in Anahuac.

“I had to stay three years to meet my requirement,” he said during a recent interview at his clinic. “But after that, I was interested to stay here in the community. A lot of doctors are in the big city. But there are poor people here who I like to help.”

In Chambers County, where he practices, nearly 80 percent of residents voted for Trump. A few blocks from his tiny clinic, a huge “Trump-Pence” campaign sign is painted on the side of a barn.

But inside his office, he said, politics rarely comes up.

“Patients come to see me, and I help them. That is all,” he said. “Patients don’t ask where I come from.”

Physicians who attended medical school in the six countries affected by Trump’s new order – Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia – provide 14 million appointments to American patients each year, according to an analysis by Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology economists. That includes more than 2.3 million office visits in areas with doctor shortages.


The problem is bigger in Texas, [Travis Singleton, senior vice president of Merritt Hawkins, a Dallas-based medical recruiting firm] said, where an additional 13,000 doctors are needed just to bring the state in line with the national average of physicians-per-resident. Thirty-five of Texas’ 254 counties have no doctors at all. About 150 counties have no general surgeons, psychiatrists or gynecologists.

International doctors are helping fill the gap: A third of Texas’ doctors were born abroad, including more than 1,000 from one of the six countries named in Trump’s order, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of Texas Medical Board licensing data.

The rural doctor shortage, in Texas and elsewhere, is nothing new. It was cited as a reason for passing the 2003 tort “reform” proposition, which doesn’t make any more sense now than it did then and which obviously hasn’t had much effect. My guess is that if it was pointed out to the Trump-voting people of Anahuac who have been patients of Dr. Yazani that they might never have had his services had a travel ban like Trump’s been in existence before, that they’d react the same was as those people in Illinois who didn’t understand why one of their longtime and well-liked local residents had been targeted for deportation. But he’s one of the good ones! That’s not what I voted for! Well, it is what you voted for, and the Trump administration doesn’t distinguish between “good” immigrants and “bad hombres”. Maybe check the fine print next time. In the meantime, will any Republican elected official who represents a rural county that may never have a doctor again speak up about this?