Following high-profile immigration raids and a shift in the enforcement stance of the federal government, there have been reports around Texas over the last week that some construction workers do not feel safe reporting to work.
It may all be a matter of perception, given that President Trump has described the raids as a wide “military operation” while the Department of Homeland Security portrayed the recent enforcement actions as fairly routine. But that perception can be a reality for the industry if there is fear among a large percentage of the workforce that they may be rounded up on jobsites.
“The Texas (and national) construction industry has been suffering a workforce shortage for many years now,” said Phil Thoden, President of AGC Austin. “In fact, the latest AGC of America survey conducted in 2016 found that 74% of Texas contractors are having trouble filling craft worker positions, and that number has been consistently high for several years.”
What impact will the recent government policy changes on illegal immigration have on the Texas construction workforce? Thoden thinks it’s too early to tell.
“It really depends on the type of work, and trades involved, that make the difference,” he said. “For example, in the licensed electrical or plumbing world there may not be as much of an impact than in the lesser skilled trades such as demolition or landscaping.”
“Or, if you currently e-verify employees anyway then you should not see a dip in your workforce availability,” Thoden said.
Meantime, public radio station KUT in Austin sent a reporter to a meeting organized by the Workers Defense Project:
One of those workers was Felix, who came to Austin from Mexico about 16 years ago. Felix didn't want to give KUT his full name because he’s undocumented. Speaking through a translator, he said he and other undocumented workers are afraid of being deported.
Felix said he has still been going to work in recent days, but he doesn’t feel like he has much of a choice since he’s the chief breadwinner of his family.
Tuesday’s meeting was organized by the Worker’s Defense Project, an advocacy group. Executive Director Jose Garza said policy changes made by the Trump administration have increased uncertainty about the priorities for immigration enforcement.
“What we have done is to make sure that the entire community here in Austin is aware of their rights, that they know that they have a right to remain silent," Garza said. "And we want everyone to know that regardless of their immigration status, they have access to certain rights under our Constitution."
Thoden, the AGC Austin President, said the organization is surveying its members to get a clearer picture of whether the labor force has been affected by the administration’s recent actions. You can check out the survey by clicking here.