After Immigration Enforcement, Some Builders See a Slowdown in Construction

An increase in immigration enforcement and proposed policies from President Donald Trump may be taking a toll on businesses that rely on an immigrant workforce. Some in Austin’s construction community say undocumented workers don’t feel safe reporting to work.

By Syeda HasanFebruary 23, 2017 9:39 am,

On Tuesday night, about 20 construction workers and their families gathered for a community meeting in the Windsor Park area. The goal was to get some clarity on the recent changes to immigration policy.

One of those workers was Felix, who came to Austin from Mexico about 16 years ago. Felix didn’t want to give KUT his full name because he’s undocumented. Speaking through a translator, he said he and other undocumented workers feel afraid of being deported.

Felix said he has still been going to work in recent days, but he doesn’t feel like he has much of a choice since he’s the chief breadwinner of his family. At Tuesday’s meeting, he gathered with other workers to share their concerns, ask questions and learn about their legal rights.

Jose Garza is the executive director of the Worker’s Defense Project, the advocacy group which organized the meeting. He said policy changes made by the Trump administration have ramped up uncertainty about the priorities for immigration enforcement.

“What we have done is to make sure that the entire community here in Austin is aware of their rights, that they know that they have a right to remain silent, and we want everyone to know that regardless of their immigration status, they have access to certain rights under our Constitution,” Garza said.

The Worker’s Defense Project estimates that 50 percent of construction workers in Texas are undocumented. If they’re afraid to show up to work, it could have a big effect on Texas businesses.

Phil Thoden, president of the Austin chapter of the Associated General Contractors, said among local builders, there has been a mixed response. He began asking around after the recent Day Without Immigrants protest, when several workers took part in a nationwide strike.

“I heard the range from ‘We haven’t seen any change,’ to ‘[We’ve] seen a few people not coming, but work is still proceeding as normal,’” Thoden said. “But then I heard a couple of people sort of through the grapevine saying, ‘Oh yeah, it had a real big impact.’”

For now, most of what we know is anecdotal. Thoden thinks it’s too soon to say whether recent immigration enforcement actions are slowing down construction overall.