The MetroWest Daily News of Framingham (Mass.) March 19, 2015

The Senate was expected to vote this week on the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be U.S. attorney general, more than four months after President Barack Obama announced that the veteran prosecutor was his choice to succeed Eric Holder. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he will delay that vote until the Senate resolves partisan differences over a bill designed to assist victims of human trafficking. Democrats have objected to anti-abortion language in the legislation.

It's specious for McConnell to suggest that a vote on Lynch must await approval of the trafficking legislation. There is no reason the Senate can't vote on the nomination and continue consideration of the bill. As Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted, members voted last week on four other nominations while the trafficking bill was before the Senate, and votes on two more nominations were scheduled. The more plausible interpretation of McConnell's remarks is that a vote on Lynch is being used as leverage to win Democratic support for the trafficking bill.

Obama chose Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, on Nov. 8, but her nomination wasn't acted on by the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee until Feb. 26, when she was approved on a 12-8 vote. Now McConnell is threatening further delays. By contrast, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, who was nominated a month after Lynch was, received Senate confirmation Feb. 12.

Carter was an experienced and well-qualified candidate, but so is Lynch, who has been confirmed twice by the Senate for previous appointments. She received high praise from Republican senators after her nomination was announced. But some Republicans want to punish her for refusing to repudiate Obama's executive action deferring deportation for millions of immigrants in the country illegally. That helps to explain why only three Republicans on the Judiciary Committee supported her nomination, and why the outcome of a final vote is likely to be uncomfortably — and unjustifiably — close. (Some Democrats worry that additional delay, combined with Republican grandstanding on immigration, might make it impossible for Lynch to achieve the required majority when a vote is finally held.)

Ironically, the delay has left Holder, who has long been a bete noire for many Republicans, in charge at Justice — and has had no effect on Obama's immigration actions. Those actions are currently being challenged in court; Republicans should be content to let that process go forward and evaluate Lynch strictly on her stellar qualifications. In any case, she is entitled to a prompt up-or-down vote. McConnell should end his obstructionism.

The Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald, March 18, 2015

Businesses in the hospitality industry were dealt a blow last week when they learned that the visa program for seasonal foreign workers, who help businesses make it through the busy tourist season, was put on hold.

"This is a critical supplement to our workforce," said Allyson Cavaretta, general manager at the Meadowmere Resort in Ogunquit, Maine.

On March 4, the Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security announced they would no longer accept or process requests for prevailing wage determinations or applications for temporary labor certifications in the H-2B program in light of the court decision Perez v. Perez. A Florida federal district court ruled that the Department of Labor lacks authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act to issue regulations in the H-2B program, vacating the department's 2008 regulations establishing standards and procedures for certifying employers' requests for seasonal workers. The suspension comes as the government considers the appropriate response to the court order.

It was announced Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Labor has filed a "motion to stay" the order that led to the suspension. If granted, the stay would allow the Department of Homeland Security to resume processing H-2B visas until April 15 while the agencies work to finalize an emergency rule to address the court's decision. The motion follows letters to the departments from Senators Angus King and Susan Collins asking for the processing of H-2B applications to resume immediately, and from the local Chambers of Commerce and businesses detailing the need. A letter to the Maine Congressional delegation from members of the Ogunquit Chamber said "we simply cannot survive without H-2B employees."

While the Department of Labor's motion is encouraging news for these businesses, it's still unclear if or when that motion will be granted.

Many employers in Southern Maine, and undoubtedly around the country, rely on these seasonal workers to get through the very busy season. A season without them could have serious repercussions, for businesses and the economy.

The Meadowmere Resort employs 15 to 18 seasonal housekeepers and cooks that work at the inn each summer, allowing the resort to fill its 144 rooms during tourist season. These employees come from Jamaica, Cavaretta said. Many return every summer and have worked at the resort for five to 10 years. The Beachmere Inn, also in Ogunquit, has applied for six seasonal workers this year.

Many businesses apply for these workers months before their tourist season begins, and after advertising the positions locally, a requirement of the H-2B visa program. Caravetta said she advertises housekeeping and cook positions locally for a minimum of three months, and in all the years she has done so, she has only had two applicants for the open positions. Last week, she said she planned to bring those open positions to a local job fair.

Employers may not file for foreign workers more than 120 days before the date that they need those workers to start, according to the Department of Labor. Even for those who have already applied, some as early as December, things are on hold.

These workers fill an important need in our local tourism industry, one that can't fully be met by local high school and college students who can only work certain hours and head back to school before the end of the season, or by even by locals who are likely looking for more full-time work. In addition, these seasonal employees support our local economy while making money needed to support their families back home.

There are many questions to be answered in the coming weeks. Will resorts not be able to open all the rooms in their facilities this summer because there won't be enough support staff? Will restaurants be able to meet the needs of their customers?

We hope there can be some positive resolution for local businesses, and soon.