Immigration Policies Might Stall Harvey Reconstruction

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Reconstruction efforts for areas of Texas hit hard by Hurricane Harvey may require more workers than are currently in the state's workforce.

Skilled-construction workers had already reported declines in their workforce before Harvey hit. According to NBC, over 70 percent of construction groups reported shortages of carpenters and framing crews to the National Association of Homebuilders, while 60 percent reported shortages of drywall installers, concrete workers and bricklayers.

NBC linked the drop in construction workers to the reduced amount of Mexican immigration since 2009. According to the Pew Research Center, 100,000 undocumented immigrants are estimated to arrive in the U.S. each year, compared to a half-million per year in the late 1990s.

Reuters reports that the Migration Policy Institute estimated in 2014 that 23 percent of all undocumented immigrants in Texas work in the construction sector. The Pew Research Center estimated in 2016 that 28 percent of Texas's construction workforce is comprised of undocumented immigrants.

"One of the challenges is the lack of workers," said Robert Dietz, chief economist for the NAH. "The storm will increase the demand for remodeling and repair and will require the same kind of workers from the pool of single family construction."

With immigration crackdowns becoming more prominent in the Trump administration, some individuals have begun to worry that the reconstruction workforce pool will not be large enough to fulfill the president's promises to "get [the flood areas] back and operating immediately."

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"We want to do it better than ever before. We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as: 'This is the way to do it,'" Trump said in Corpus Christi on Aug. 29, NBC reports.

The White House has claimed that ICE raids have increased by 40 since the beginning of Trump's presidency, NBC reports. Independent economist Diane Swonk believes that the sentiment caused by these raids and other immigration policies will put a damper on reconstruction efforts.

"They can't get anyone to show up for fear of getting deported," she said. 

During the flood, a Texas law that would ban sanctuary cities and allow law enforcement to inquire about a person's immigration status was scheduled to take effect on Sept. 1. The law was stalled by a Texas judge on Aug. 29, though the state's governor has since filed an appeal.

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The Washington Post reports that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agencies promised not to target undocumented immigrants in shelters, evacuation areas or food banks during the storm.

However, Oscar Hernandez, a 29-year-old community organizer for a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in Houston, said he knew of undocumented immigrants who were seeking refuge with neighbors out of fear of deportation in public shelters.

"As concerned as everyone is about the hurricane, we have another disaster that’s heading our way, led by the government, led by Trump," said Hernandez.

Having come from Mexico when he was 2 years old, Hernandez is one of nearly 800,000 who benefit from DACA. According to the Washington Post, a group of GOP officials in 10 states are threatening to sue President Trump if he doesn't phase out the program by Sept. 5.

Sources: Reuters via Business Insider, NBC, Washington Post / Featured Image: Army National Guard Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon/U.S. Department of Defense / Embedded Images: Tomas Castelazo/Wikimedia CommonsU.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Department of Homeland Security)

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