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Labor Shortage Could Force Trump’s Hand on Legal Status for Thousands

President Donald Trump's proposed border wall isn't just highly controversial. Now that he’s been elected and has begun the process of fulfilling campaign promises, it is also becoming more apparent the project is a logistical nightmare for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is a lack of enough skilled workers to build what would be one of the largest public infrastructure projects in history.

Bloomberg News puts a fine point on it:

A labor shortage has left few hands to build houses and factories in the region, where wages have already been rising and projects delayed. Now, the president’s plan for “immediate construction of a border wall” will force the government to find legal builders for a project that could employ thousands if not tens of thousands.

About half of construction workers in Texas are undocumented, and nationwide 14 percent lack authorization for employment in the U.S., according to the Workers Defense Project, an Austin group that advocates for undocumented laborers.

“If he is going to build a wall with legal workers in Texas, he is going to have a very hard time,” said Stan Marek, chief executive officer of Marek Brothers, a Houston commercial builder. “There is a real shortage of legal labor.”

The article from Bloomberg also quotes Ken Simonson, Chief Economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, as saying “Getting workers who would be vetted to work on government projects and then getting them to these locations, which are pretty far away, would be among the many challenges.”

One of the key requirements for any worker on a federal project is their legal status must be checked through the E-Verify system, the government’s program to help employers quickly determine whether a person is authorized to work in the United States. Again, from Bloomberg: 

Marek said his firm, which operates throughout Texas and focuses on interior work, has been turning down jobs because it can’t find enough skilled, legal labor. He said a solution would be a guest worker visa program or giving legal status to immigrants already in the country.

So, this labor shortage coupled with the fact that workers on federal projects must be E-Verified would seem to leave the Trump Administration with two options for a quick resolution and forward motion on the border wall:

  • Drop the E-Verification requirement for this federal project.
  • Grant legal status to thousands, if not tens of thousands of currently undocumented workers in Texas and other border states.

The irony of that choice will likely not be lost on construction executives and others.