With construction facing a perennial skills shortage, the main contractors’ body in the US has welcomed sweeping immigration reform legislation introduced to Congress on Thursday last week by Democrats, but it warns the act doesn’t go far enough.
If passed, the US Citizenship Act of 2021 would pave an eight-year-long path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people currently in the US by giving them new temporary status for five years followed by a chance to obtain citizenship after three further years.
The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) said on Friday that the new law would allow some 100,000 people currently working in construction to continue to do so lawfully, while combatting the exploitation of undocumented workers by unscrupulous employers.
But the AGC wants any new legislation to create special visas for construction workers, lest the proposed changes incentivise more illegal entries to the US.
The act was introduced on 18 February by Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Representative Linda Sanchez of California, both children of immigrants.
They said the legislation would provide millions of workers, including so-called "Dreamers", with a path to citizenship with the new Temporary Protective Status, while prioritising family reunification.
"As the son of Cuban immigrants who fled an oppressive regime for a better life in the United States, I have dedicated much of my career in Congress, both in the House and the Senate, fighting for the dignity of immigrant families in New Jersey and all across America," Menendez said.
"Immigrants contribute greatly to our country and society; they own businesses, pay taxes and teach our children, they are our coworkers, neighbors and friends. We have an historic opportunity to finally enact bold immigration reform that leaves no one behind, addresses root causes of migration, and safeguards our country’s national security. We have a moral and economic imperative to get this done once and for all."
AGC chief executive Stephen E. Sandherr issued a statement welcoming the legislation for the most part.
"The proposed new immigration bill provides long-needed reforms to the nation’s flawed approach to immigration," he said.
"By proposing to protect the legal status of so-called ‘Dreamers’ and immigrants participating in the Temporary Protected Status program, the measure will allow more than 100,000 people to continue working lawfully in the construction industry.
"In addition, the bill’s efforts to provide a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants will, if enacted, help eliminate the exploitation of undocumented workers by unscrupulous employers that puts our member firms at an unfair competitive disadvantage.
"However, the bill’s lack of a year-round, work visa program for construction workers makes it likely that many more will seek to enter the country unlawfully, especially in times of strong economic growth. The measure’s whistle blower provisions create perverse incentives for undocumented workers to make unsubstantiated workplace allegations simply to secure protected status within the domestic workforce.
"Moving forward, we will work with Congress to address the bill’s significant flaws as we work to protect or provide legal status for many who currently work in the construction community so they can continue to support economic growth and development."
Image courtesy of AGC via Facebook