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Construction Industry Banks on New Immigrant Labor

The construction industry takes special interest in reform of U.S. immigration policies. The future of the industry’s labor force may depend on it.

Mon June 16, 2014 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson

The construction industry takes special interest in reform of U.S. immigration policies. The future of the industry’s labor force may depend on it.

The subject is touchy because of the friendly invasion of millions of Mexican and Latin American workers. The draw for them is the job-creation strength of the American economy, even in its weak state. Access to schools, health facilities and other public facilities also are attractions.

The problem, of course, is that illegal immigrants are being rewarded—receiving the benefits of U.S. citizenship without being U.S citizens. That is unsettling. How many people are we talking about? No one knows for sure, but estimates range from 7 million to 20 million.

The upshot is public controversy: Legitimate concerns about border security and rewarding lawbreakers vie with equally understandable desires to be compassionate and practical. For its part, the construction industry is pragmatic: It just wants the issue settled so workers from south of the border can help fill the industry’s employment void.

Associated General Contractors says two-thirds of contractors are having problems hiring professional and skilled workers. It believes the answer is to hire American workers first and, when that supply runs dry, hire immigrants. To that end, the organization argues for immigration reform that restructures guest worker programs so that foreign help can be hired long-term and helped to win citizenship.

That sounds fair enough. Every industry—the construction industry more than most—would benefit. The immigrant workforce in every generation of America’s history has proven to be hard-working and promotable, and the Mexican and Latin American employees are no exception. All that is needed is for people of goodwill and politicians of good sense to act in the best interests of the country. In other words, don’t hold your breath.

Americans interested in having policymakers finally resolve this painful and dangerous issue should be calling their elected representatives with the message that we need immigration reform and inaction is not acceptable. In an election year, such constituent complaints can move mountains and, sometimes, politicians.

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