Trump’s decision to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 200k Salvadoran immigrants delivers a devastating blow to the construction industry, a field that continually confronts workforce challenges, given its already-stretched labor force.
Two pieces – one from the Washington Times and the other from Construction Dive – tackle this head-on, highlighting the potential impacts of the revocation of the TPS program, namely what it will do to the labor pool and number of qualified workers available.
Construction companies in the D.C. area and across the nation could take hits to their workforces in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to revoke temporary protected status for Salvadorans, industry insiders say.
Independence Excavating Inc., an Ohio-based construction firm that has operated in the District since 2013, employs Salvadorans with temporary protected status as one-half of its local workforce, said General Manager John Pecun.
“Losing them is going to be devastating to our ability to work,” said Mr. Pecun, adding that a tightening workforce produces a ripple effect. “[If the] labor pool shrinks, cost of labor goes up, and rate of accidents go up. It all starts because of this.”
What’s more, construction unions and associations are concerned about the future of the national industry, which relies on the 30,000 Salvadorans with temporary protected status, according to the Associated General Contractors of America.
“Three-fourths of our members are telling us they’re having a hard time finding qualified workers to hire,” said organization spokesman Brian Turmail. “Taking 30,000 qualified workers, who are legal, out of the hiring pool will slow construction, raise construction costs and put a lot of construction projects in a pretty tight bind.”
Temporary protected status is part of a 1990 law that authorizes people fleeing violence or natural disasters in their home countries to stay and work in the U.S.
Congress extended the status to Salvadorans after back-to-back earthquakes displaced thousands in El Salvador in 2001. Lawmakers have renewed the program every 18 months since then.
The Department of Homeland Security, saying their homeland had recovered from the earthquakes, revoked the Salvadoran refugees’ status this month.
Mr. Turmail, of the Associated General Contractors of America, said the trade group’s members in the D.C. area will be hit particularly hard because the District is home to 32,000 Salvadorans with temporary protected status — the largest enclave in the nation — and most of them work in construction.
“We came here as a company five years ago, and we struggled to find skilled workers,” said Mr. Percun, who noted that Independence Excavating was founded by an Italian immigrant.
Some of his crew’s projects, such as redirecting waterways and excavation, are dangerous jobs that require 40 hours of training each year.
“These are union-trained, skilled laborers,” said Mr. Percun. “They’re awesome at what they do, they have a great work ethic, they are family people.”
Abel Nunez is executive director of the Central American Resource Center, which provides legal aid and immigration counseling in the District. He said local construction companies have been contacting his group with questions about temporary protected status.
One company, he said, estimates that 20 percent of its workforce consists of protected Salvadoran workers.
“Companies are already having a hard time hiring experienced workers, so with a loss of 20 percent, you can see how construction projects in the area will come to a screeching halt,” Mr. Nunez said.
He said local families also will be affected because their status has them straddling borders.
“You have to remember that nationally there are 192,000 Salvadorans with TPS, but they have 200,000 children who are U.S. citizens,” said Mr. Nunez. “It’s not a clean cut.”
Meanwhile, Tim Wallace, a spokesman for the Legal Aid Justice Center in Falls Church, Virginia, expressed concern that revoking temporary protected status might instill welfare dependency among Salvadorans’ American families.
“We are taking a bunch of U.S.-born citizen kids whose families are basically able to care for them right now and forcing them onto the welfare roll,” Mr. Wallace said. “We are not talking about the typical under-the-table day laborers or what have you. They have good, well-paying jobs.”
Most of those jobs in the District are in construction, but the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce says other industries would be squeezed if they lose employees with protected status.
“It’s the health care industry and transportation,” said chamber President Nicole Quiroga. “And hospitality, maintenance, manufacturing, retail and restaurants are all going to feel this.”
Ms. Quiroga said that revoking temporary protected status will force recipients to reduce spending, affecting businesses across the region and relatives in El Salvador who depend on remittances from their U.S.-based family members. Nearly 17 percent of El Salvador’s gross domestic product is based on remittances from Salvadorans living in the United States, where 20 percent of the Central American nation’s population resides.
Mr. Nunez, who was born in El Salvador and immigrated legally to the District as a child, fears for those who are deported because the MS-13 street gang that exports violent crime to the U.S. will try to recruit many of them.
“If they go back to the country of origin, once they get there they will be targets from illicit actors like gang members because they have money,” he said.
Additionally, reducing remittances and deporting Salvadorans with temporary protected status could cause more illegal immigration to the U.S., immigration advocates said.
“More than not, they will be displacing workers from El Salvador. This will create a future pressure of immigrants to the U.S.,” said Mr. Nunez. “If the administration was really about stopping illegal immigration, this is sort of the wrong move.”
Local organizations such as the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and The Central American Resource Center are preparing to educate those with temporary protected status about their options and plan to take their concerns to Capitol Hill.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is gathering signatures for a congressional petition to make their status permanent.