January 27, 2017

President Trump may struggle to build his wall without undocumented workers

President Trump may struggle to build his wall without undocumented workers

About 50% of the construction workers in the region of Trump’s proposed Mexico–US border wall are undocumented, according to the Workers Defense Project, a Texas advocacy group.

Texas already faces a labor shortage in the construction industry, resulting in rising wages and delayed projects. The president’s plan will force the government to find legal builders for a project that could require tens of thousands of workers.

The area’s subcontractors are already using unconventional means to find workers as a result of the shortage, which is a nationwide problem. The Central Texas Subcontractor Association is partnering with non-profit Goodwill Industries to teach skills, whilst many companies expect to have to train new workers from the ground up. 

With a border that is almost 2,000 miles long and includes sand dunes, arroyos—dry creeks that can temporarily fill and flow with water after sufficient rain—and craggy mountains, the task is not a simple one. The cost of building the wall has been estimated to be as high as $25 billion.

The post-recession housing crash, loss of construction jobs, and an improving Mexican economy have resulted in falling numbers of undocumented immigrants in the US since 2008. Whilst, in the US, many young people see construction work as being for the unskilled and unaccomplished. 

Possible solutions to the problem include a guest worker visa program or granting legal status to immigrants already in the country.

Cynthia Bansak has written about legalizing undocumented immigrants for IZA World of Labor. She concludes: “[l]egalization allows undocumented immigrants greater mobility, access to health and social services, and equal protection under the law. It can increase tax revenues, as more immigrants pay taxes or pay more taxes when incomes rise. Comprehensive legislation can bring undocumented immigrants into the mainstream and deter new unauthorized immigration.” Bansak advises that “[l]egalization should be phased in, beginning with temporary work and residence rights and moving to permanent residency for workers who meet requirements. Such balanced programs can boost net benefits to the receiving country while reducing security concerns.”

Related articles: 
Legalizing undocumented immigrants, by Cynthia Bansak
Enforcement and illegal migration, by Pia Orrenius
What are the consequences of regularizing undocumented immigrants?, by Sherrie A. Kossoudji