Ending Temporary Protection For Foreign Workers Could Hurt U.S. Rebuilding Efforts If the U.S. ends temporary protected status for 300,000 Caribbean and Central American workers, there are fears it will have ripple effects — especially on post-hurricane construction.

Ending Temporary Protection For Foreign Workers Could Hurt U.S. Rebuilding Efforts

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More than 300,000 people live and work under what is known as Temporary Protected Status. This is status granted to those whose home countries face war or disaster. The Trump administration has been eliminating some of these protections, meaning many could face deportation when their status expires. As NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, this could have an impact on an already short-staffed construction industry.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: When Pedro Cerritos was a young man, he left the poverty and aftermath of civil war in El Salvador to settle in Houston. Nearly 20 years later, he's a construction supervisor with a mortgage, a wife and three children. Because of his Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, he's worked legally for more than 16 years.

PEDRO CERRITOS: We’re paying the house, we’re kind of established here right now, but if we lose status, that's - you know, I’m going to lose my job.

NOGUCHI: Cerritos' wife, a restaurant worker, is also in limbo as one of 57,000 Hondurans who may also lose their status. He says his wife worries. He tries to avoid thinking about it.

CERRITOS: You know, I don't want to get depressed.

NOGUCHI: For decades, bipartisan White House administrations routinely renewed TPS status. But last month, the Trump administration lifted protections for about 53,000 workers from Haiti and Nicaragua. It will decide the fate of many more workers early next year. This is a big deal for the construction industry, which stands to lose 50,000 workers in an already tight labor market. The Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Home Builders, among others, have lobbied to keep the workers, many of whom work in Texas, Florida and California, which are rebuilding after hurricanes and wildfires. Royce Murray is policy director for the American Immigration Council.

ROYCE MURRAY: You know, I have worked on TPS issues for a long time, and I have never known industry to come out in support of TPS workers really in these kind of numbers ever before.

NOGUCHI: Alex Nowrasteh is immigration policy analyst for the libertarian Cato Institute.

ALEX NOWRASTEH: There's no good economic justification for ending TPS. These workers are not competing with very many Americans in the labor force. The economy is growing very rapidly in the United States. American firms and consumers want to employ these folks.

NOGUCHI: Nowrasteh says forcing workers to sell their homes or work underground would have knock-on business impacts. He also notes TPS workers pay taxes but aren't eligible for welfare and food stamps.

NOWRASTEH: So they're leaving, and taking their production with them, taking their output with them, taking their work with them is a total net loss. And there is no kind of savings on the taxpayer side.

NOGUCHI: He agrees with liberal-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, which estimates ending TPS would mean losing $164 billion in economic growth over a decade. Mike Holland is chief operating officer for Marek, a big construction firm in Houston. Pedro Cerritos is one of 30 Marek workers with protected status.

MIKE HOLLAND: You know, as I looked at the list, I was shocked. Well, what happens if Pedro loses his status? And the truth is we both get hammered. I mean, the pipeline is pinched, and there's really just not access to more labor.

NOGUCHI: Marek plays by the rules and verifies its employees' legal status. He says ending the status will benefit companies who don't.

HOLLAND: What happens is we lose a valued resource, struggle to meet the expectations of our clients and then feed a resource to a competitor who will beat us with our own people and doing it illegitimately. It's really not cool.

NOGUCHI: The administration faces a deadline on extending TPS protections for 200,000 Salvadorans January 8.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.


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