From Offices to Disney World, Employers Brace for the Loss of an Immigrant Work Force

They clean federal office buildings in Washington and nurse older people in Boston. They are rebuilding hurricane-wrecked Houston. The Atlanta Falcons’ new stadium, plumbing and heating systems at Fannie Mae’s new headquarters, the porterhouse at Peter Luger Steak House and even the Disney World experience have all depended, in small part or large, on their labor.

They are the immigrants from Haiti and Central America who have staked their livelihoods on the temporary permission they received years ago from the government to live and work in the United States. Hundreds of thousands now stand to lose that status under the Trump administration, which said on Monday that roughly 200,000 immigrants from El Salvador would have to leave by September 2019 or face deportation.

Even if they remain here illegally, they, like the young immigrants known as Dreamers whose status is also in jeopardy this winter, will lose their work permits, potentially scratching more than a million people from the legal work force in a matter of months. And the American companies that employ them will be forced to look elsewhere for labor, if they can get it at all.

“If you get rid of 26 percent of my employees, I guess I’m going to have to terminate some of the contracts,” said Victor Moran, 52, the chief executive of Total Quality, a janitorial services company in the Washington area — “unless I’m willing to break the law,” which he said he was not. The company employs 228 people with temporary protected status, or T.P.S., all but a handful from El Salvador.

Within the complex and often perplexing American immigration system, immigrants covered by T.P.S. fall into an especially vexed category.

The Trump administration has emphasized that the permissions were originally granted because of wars and natural disasters in the immigrants’ home countries and intended to last only until conditions there improved. But in reality, their permissions have been extended so long that they have become indefinite residents, often buying homes and raising American-born children, even though their status offers no path to citizenship.


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