Freshman construction giant Marek Brothers sponsored an internship with high school students in Texas, 18 of the 25 participating students graduated and had $35,000-a-year jobs awaiting them. They went to their high school classes until noon, then were bussed to a Marek-funded construction lab at a community college. But it wasn’t until the end of the program that eight of those eighteen talented students learned they couldn’t take the jobs their hard work had landed for them because they were undocumented immigrants, brought in the United States as children. Only ten of the 25 vacancies have been filled.
This cautionary tale demonstrates the obstacles our country’s failing immigration policy places on potential workers and well-meaning employers struggling to train and staff their businesses. If Congress doesn’t act quickly to enact legal status for our nation’s undocumented immigrants, it will only get worse.
Today, the US labor shortage, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, reached 10.9 million job openings; 712,000 of those jobs are in Texas. Companies are permanently closing their doors because they cannot find workers. Restaurant owners cannot equip their kitchens; farmers cannot harvest their crops; patients cannot find a hospital bed. The labor shortage is both staggering and budgetary.
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As current and former CEOs who have led major companies in two of Texas’ biggest industries – healthcare and construction – we understand how undocumented immigrants sustain and grow the Texas economy. Between us, we’ve employed nearly 30,000 Texans and dread the economic costs businesses will face if Congress fails to legislate a path to legal status for one of America’s most industrious work forces.
Every day we see the incredible dedication and economic potential of our state’s undocumented immigrants. The approximately 305,000 undocumented immigrants working in construction today make up 25% of the total industry workforce in Texas.
Immigrants comprise more than one in five nurses in Texas and nearly one in four of our state’s health care aides. They staff our hospitals, build our homes, protect our food supply and are among the most productive labor markets in our country. Texas’ 1.7 million undocumented immigrants contribute $1.7 billion in local and state taxes and $2.3 billion in federal taxes.
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There are common sense immigration solutions before Congress that have strong support from our nation’s business leaders and would rebuild our economy. Research shows that securing permanent status for America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants would add $121 billion a year to the U.S. economy each year and generate $31 billion in additional federal, state and local tax revenue.
The popularity of these reforms is strongly shared by Democrats and Republicans. The American Business Immigration Coalition recently released a bipartisan poll showing that voters in major swing states and 70 competitive home districts support not just legal status, but pathways to citizenship by a 3-to-1 margin. Calls to deport immigrants continue on the far right of the political spectrum, with only 10% of voters, including just 17% of Trump voters, believing that the priority for solving our immigration system should be deportations.
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With so much at stake for Texas businesses and with bipartisan support, it’s disappointing to see Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz unwilling to ensure that our country’s immigration policy has the optimal impact on the economy of our state.
As Texan business leaders, we need our senators to recognize the unique challenges our state faces when it comes to immigration reform. After 35 years of failing to process our country’s undocumented immigrants, Americans cannot afford a one-year delay. Whether through a bill passed in the Senate or through the reconciliation process, now is the time to get moving. Inaction is not an option.
Lucia is the former Chairman, President and CEO of HMS. Marek is CEO of Marek Brothers. Both are board members of the American Business Immigration Coalition.