Skeletal structures on construction sites dot the Texas landscape. Tens of thousands of laborers work hard to complete their work and to make these houses future residences for families.
Truth be told, many of these construction workers are undocumented immigrants.
Uncertainty over their future residency makes them hesitant to complete projects. As federal and state governments tussle over the issue of illegal immigration, contractors face a serious labor shortage as they struggle to recruit and retain middle-skill construction workers.
In 2013, the Workers Defense Project and the University of Texas at Austin found that half of the 1,194 laborers surveyed on Texas work sites were undocumented. A November 2016 Pew Research report surveying the entire state concluded that 28 percent of construction workers were undocumented.
In 2014, the Perryman Group reported that Texas was home to 1.7 million unauthorized immigrants, 24 percent in construction. Out of a total gross product of $85 billion in 2015, those workers contributed $33.75 billion.
Researchers fear that the economic loss cannot be replaced. All the unemployed persons filling the jobs held by undocumented workers would still leave a gap of hundreds of thousands.
As the deportation net potentially widens and the Texas Legislature takes steps towards outlawing sanctuary cities, immigrants fearing an escalation of removals have been hesitant to show up for work. The timing could not be worse. The Texas construction industry is seeing a resurgence after the financial crisis of 2008.
Replacing them is easier said than done for various reasons. Massive job losses nine years ago saw experienced workers finding new jobs following layoffs. For companies looking to staff current and future projects, getting those employees to return presents significant challenges.
An uncertain labor force seriously impacts contractors who have already committed to large projects years in advance. They fear disruption in a potentially unreliable workforce.
Long-term, industry professionals see the fallout of deportation fears or outright removals resulting in higher labor costs, construction delays and cancelled projects. Also at stake is the healthy economy and low cost of living Texans have enjoyed for many years.