Breaux Bridge — Many of the several dozen citizens who attended U.S. Sen. David Vitter’s town hall meeting here last Tuesday, May 27, were vocal in their criticism of the U.S. Congress’s handling of illegal immigration, the high cost of prescription drugs, and of course the high cost of gasoline.
Of the three issues, immigration received the most venting, with local crawfish producers lamenting the lack of migrant labor during this peeling season.
“Without these people, my production is down to 80 percent,” said Michael LeBlanc of C,J.’s Seafood in Breaux Bridge.
“This is hurting our local economy,” he said.
Crowley businessman Michael Hensgens, legislative chairman of the Crawfish Processors Alliance, said the immediate problem is Congress’s failure to pass an extension of the federal H-2B Guest-Worker Visa Program.
The program, by which employers can bring in workers for seasonal non-agriculture jobs like food processing, landscaping, and restaurant and hotel jobs, is capped at 66,000 workers nationwide. A provision allowing foreign workers to return their U.S. jobs without counting against the cap has expired and attempts to revive it failed as recently as May 22.
Vitter said the problem is that a majority in Congress is willing to “hold hostage” the H-2B extension until they can get a more general amnesty for illegal immigrants.
The state’s junior senator said he would like to see immigration policy focused more on bringing in highly educated and skilled workers like physicians and engineers.
On the more general concerns about illegal aliens entering the workforce, Vitter said he favors improved enforcement at the workplace relying less on paper documents, too easily counterfeited, and more on real-time database searches.
Several in the audience wanted to know why Congress continues to stymie drilling in the Arctic or offshore of Florida in the face of record-high energy costs. Partisanship and the “environmental left” was Vitter’s answer.
“Some members (of Congress) oppose almost on religious grounds anything that has to do with oil and gas,” he said.
Vitter promised to have his staff look into several specific issues having to do with Medicare or the Veterans’ Administration, and on the broader question of high prescription medicine costs, he said he and others are working to find a way to equalize drug prices globally.
Vitter, dressed casually in blazer and plaid shirt, responded to questions written in advance on index cards passed out by his staff, allowing each questioner to expand and to follow up if necessary.
No questions came up about the infamous “D.C. Madam,” Deborah Jean Palfrey, to whom Vitter was publicly linked.
Mayor Jack Dale Delhomme welcomed the crowd, Sheriff Ronny Theriot gave the invocation, and Parish President Guy Cormier introduced the senator.