Undocumented workers make up as much as 50 percent of the construction workforce in Texas, and they’ll be sorely needed in Houston. “There is no way the existing (legal) workforce can make a dent in it,” said one construction executive.
As Houston turns its attention to rebuilding, people like Jay De Leon, who owns a small construction firm there, are likely to play an outsized role–if they decide to stay around, reports Reuters. De Leon and his 10 employees do exactly the kind of demolition and refurbishing the city will need. But like a large number of construction workers in Texas, De Leon and most of his workers live in the United States illegally, and that could make things complicated. The Pew Research Center estimated last year that 28 percent of Texas’s construction workforce is undocumented; other studies have put the number as high as 50 percent. However, undocumented immigrants are growing increasingly nervous in Texas by a Trump administration crackdown that has cast a wide net.
De Leon, who has lived in the country for 20 years and has two citizen children, says the changes have spooked the city’s migrant workforce. In recent weeks, he said, one of his employees left the state and another returned to Mexico. Both feared arrest. “The situation that Houston is going through now with the hurricane is going to be the trial by fire for the Republicans and the governor that approved these radical laws,” De Leon said. “They will need our migrant labor to rebuild the city. I believe that without us it will be impossible.” “It’s a crisis,” said Stan Marek, chief executive of Marek Construction in Texas. “We are looking at several thousand homes that have flood damage. There is no way the existing (legal) workforce can make a dent in it.”