LOCALS TALK ABOUT NEW PRESIDENT
FEATURING ED RUSSO, AUTHOR OF
"DONALD J. TRUMP: AN ENVIRONMENTAL HERO"
by Arnaud Girard.......
Donald Trump is now our President. What might be the effect, good or bad, of the new presidency on our lives, the local environment, businesses, our local school system, our relations with Cuba and more?
- Where local economy and new immigration policy collide
Key West's is booming. Old fish houses and RV parks with handfuls of employees have been replaced by sprawling restaurants and high class hotels. But this tourist based economy is showing signs of overheating: the value of real estate keeps climbing, creating an unprecedented affordable housing crisis. As a result, scores of locals are forced to leave town. At the same time, new businesses need ever more employees.
And that is where the town could be on a collision course with one of President Trump's policies. The unspoken truth is that many businesses in Key West are now basing their hiring strategy on an immigration scheme that borders on illegality.They often present themselves as temporary employment agencies. They have flourished in Key West. They are the providers of Eastern European and Central American workers to local restaurants, hotels, and even to contractors. The workers themselves came into the US with real (or fake) "H2B visas" or educational "J visas." The system seems reassuring to business owners: officially the employees are working for the temp agency, not for the restaurant or the shop owner, who can pretend not to know anything about his foreign workers' legal status. The problem is the system may have only the appearance of legality: those H2B visas are based on contracts signed outside the US with a specific employer in the US. They do not allow for the placement of employees in permanent positions in a business that is not a party to the contract.
When we asked the immigration services for the list of "H2B visas" issued for Key West businesses we received a suspiciously short list of 90 contracted H2B employees . Many were linked to a business whose only physical presence was a post office box at Duval Square. Yet some local hotels and restaurants seem to be plugging into an unlimited supply of those indispensable workers.
If the new President makes good on his promise to crack down on illegal immigration and guest worker programs, Key West's workforce could shrink way below local needs.
The new President is expected to concentrate on the deportation of illegal aliens with criminal records. However, the immigration raids of the Bush era are likely to resume. A New York Time's article (Jan 2, 2017) points out that, like Mr. Trump, George W. Bush had promised to deport record numbers of undocumented aliens with criminal records. The immigration service however quickly realized that it couldn't fulfill those expectations. As it turned out, criminal aliens were simply too difficult to catch to satisfy ambitious deportation quotas. So the Customs and Border Patrol redirected its attention toward an easier target, a much more docile bunch, hiding in plain view. It began raiding homes and businesses to round-up illegal workers. If the same trend imposes itself with the new administration, doing business in Key West could become a lot more difficult, but could also offer more opportunities and higher salaries for locals.
- The Sanctuary City debate:
There are a number of reasons why Key West would want to declare itself a "Sanctuary City" as proposed by City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley. Many fear that marriage equality could be revisited (even though Donald Trump himself has not weighed in on the issue.) The City's relaxed enforcement of marijuana laws apparently conflicts with the views of Trump's nominee for US Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. (He declared, "Good people don't smoke marijuana.") The City could also want to drag its feet in assisting with the enforcement of immigration laws.
Problem is, in his "100 days speech," Donald Trump made clear his intention to “defund Sanctuary Cities.” That could mean no more federal grants, no more flood insurance for Key West, just to name a few consequences. And once Key West becomes red-flagged as a "Sanctuary City" there is no telling what it would take to get off that black list. A dangerous game.
- The Florida Keys environment
We spoke with local resident, Ed Russo. He is the author of a book entitled, Donald J. Trump: An Environmental Hero. Mr. Russo is an environmental expert who works with Donald Trump on development projects that have intricate environmental considerations. According to Mr. Russo, no one is more environmentally responsible than our new President.
But what happens when the businessman becomes the government?
Donald Trump has positioned himself in favor of an increase of domestic oil exploration and has been skeptical about the ban on offshore drilling. But the perspective of black tides of tar nearing our shores may not be the only problem.
In the past developers in the Keys have run against federal regulations prohibiting new dredging or pollution runoff and mandating strong protections for coastal barrier resource systems and endangered species. However, any such regulation could now be canceled under the new President’s announced trade-off policy: "For any new regulation we will get rid of 2 old ones." Nobody seems to be able to describe how the trade-off policy is going to work. Can the protection in one area of the country be sold out for some other concern somewhere else? Can "a new regulation" become code word for a pretext to dismantle 2 old obstacles to lucrative real estate development projects? Relaxing federal regulations could indeed result in an explosion of economic activity in the Keys, and/or irreparable harm to our environment.
The future will largely depend on our local government's willingness to use its own laws to discourage those environmentally dangerous activities that may no longer be kept in check by federal regulations.
The effect that a true "opening" of Cuba would have on Key West's economy is the subject of intense debate. Some think that scores of people will stop here on their way to Cuba, others believe the Miami crowd that comes down on weekends to party on Duval Street would decrease dramatically. No more big weekends. Compared to a long ride to overpriced Key West people might prefer a $200 charter flight to Cuba, with cheaper everything and more novelties.
President Trump has announced that he will put the breaks on Barack Obama's policy of openness with Cuba. Rex Tillerson, Trump's pick for Secretary of State, has told the Senate he would personally oppose lifting the embargo. It seems Key West is not going to find out any time soon whether Cuba is a friend or a foe of its tourist economy.
- The "white flight" out of Key West's public schools
In recent years charter schools have been doing well in Key West. They offer an ever-expanding choice of grade levels and curriculum. But critics claim that, in Key West, they cater disproportionally to white students; that they are "cream skimming." Under the Trump administration this movement is likely to accelerate .
Betsy Devos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, is not only an advocate for charter schools but also for voucher programs by which parents can use public school money to help pay private school tuition. Trump himself is calling for a 20-billion-dollar school voucher program.
It seems, there may soon be a meeting of the minds between the State of Florida and the new federal government. In this new juncture the status of charter schools in Key West could be considerably improved. For instance, charters could finally receive, not only their share of academic operational funding, but also a corresponding share of infrastructure equity. There is also a push to allow charter schools to form their own school districts, completely independent from the elected school board.
If Key West's public school system is to survive as a relevant vehicle toward a student's bright future it’ll need to begin efforts to measure up to the competition.
Conservatives believe they will help rescue traditional public schools by reining in teachers’ unions which are perceived as obstacles to higher accountability and better education. But teachers say the best teachers stick with public schools because charter schools are not unionized and charter schools ultimately will turn to more online courses and lower pay for teachers. Private schools, partly funded by government vouchers, could end up being the only available quality education.
Some people think that increased charter school competition will sound a wake-up call for Key West's public school administrators. Others think the culture of cronyism is so entrenched in our public schools that the "bubbas" would rather go down with the ship.
Few issues in Key West are in a more desperate need of public mobilization than the struggle for equal opportunities to quality education for all of our children. But don't hold your breath.
- Real Estate
All economists seem to agree that President Trump's program of deregulation and high spending will cause interest rates to go up. The federal reserve announced it envisions at least 2 prime rate increases this year. This could be good news for the middle-income home buyer since the banks will finally find it profitable to loan money again.
President Trump is calling for one trillion dollars in new infrastructure. Can we get a bullet train to Miami or an electric turbine generator farm in the Gulf Stream, or a four-lane highway, or a hurricane shelter big enough for all of us, even for tourists, so we’ll never need to evacuate? Whatever our wish list is, our politicians should probably start thinking about how to take advantage of what could be a unique opportunity to improve our local infrastructure.