Why Leaders In The Construction Industry Say Immigration Reform Could Solve Houston’s Workforce Woes

Nearly 100,000 of Houston’s construction workers are undocumented. A recent report found that cutting immigration by 30 percent could lose Houston $51 billion.

Over the past few decades, Chief Operating Officer for Marek Brothers Mike Holland has seen the construction industry change.  

He said that as baby boomers retire, it’s harder to find legal skilled labor to take their place.

At the same time, Houston has a huge demand for new houses, hospitals and schools, intensifying the critical need for workers in construction.

And the industry relies heavily on immigrant labor: Nearly a third of the city’s 300,000 construction workers are undocumented.

“The reality has been continuing to get worse as we have traditional workers exit, new workers come in with no functional, legal reason to get to work,” said Holland. “So, the problem continues to grow and it will continue to grow until we do something about comprehensive immigration.”

Holland said if all undocumented workers were deported, it would slow down projects across the city.

“Grind to a halt might be dramatic, but the truth is it would be a significant impact on our industry and city and region’s ability to execute that work,” he said. 

Holland, like many business leaders across the state, are standing up against hard-line immigration policies.  

“In an economy in a city and state where it’s critical we attract resources, we are, in fact, thumbing our nose at a significant resource and it doesn’t seem to make sense,” he said.

Holland believes that if undocumented workers were able to gain legal status, they could receive benefits, training and they would less vulnerable to exploitation.

He also said building would be cheaper.

By ELIZABETH TROVALL for HOUSTON PUBLIC MEDIA

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