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Broken Immigration System Hurts Texas Construction Workers, Industry

Photo by Jason Cato

The nation’s broken immigration system is creating a crisis for workers and employers in the Texas construction industry. A new study by the Workers Defense Project (WDP) and the University of Texas finds that as many as half of the Lone Star State’s construction workers may be undocumented.

WDP Executive Director Cristina Tzintzun told reporters at the press conference announcing the release of Build a Better Nation: A Case for Comprehensive Immigration Reform:

Our immigration policies are broken. They’re not working for businesses, they’re not working for our workers and they’re not working for our state.

The report says that because “undocumented immigrants comprise significant portions of industries like construction, more employers are left with few choices other than to hire unauthorized workers, or risk going out of business.”

Employers need an immigration system that allows them to legally hire the workers they need so they can focus on managing their businesses, not managing immigration policy.

It also notes that undocumented worker are ripe for exploitation by unscrupulous employers and receive lower pay, are less likely to receive safety training or be covered by workers’ compensation if they are injured on the job.

Current immigration policy has left undocumented workers with few protections…creating illegal working conditions that lower the standards for all workers.  

Also said Tzintzun:

When employers are able to threaten immigration enforcement against workers, workers are actually afraid oftentimes to step forward when there are unsafe working conditions and when they’re not being paid right for their work.


The report calls for immigration reform that keeps families together, honors hard work by protecting the workplace rights of undocumented workers, rewards honest employers by ensuring all companies compete on a level playing field and provides a pathway to citizenship that is necessary to ensure the industry can continue to employ its current workforce.    

Current policy hurts workers, honest businesses and taxpayers in Texas and the United States. Policymakers and businesses are realizing the importance of creating better federal immigration policies that can meet the needs of our dynamic and growing nation, while ensuring the millions of undocumented people living and working in the United States can fully participate in their communities and local economies.

The report surveyed 1,200 workers at construction sites in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Houston and San Antonio and half reported that they were undocumented. Read the full report.

Learn more about the Workers Defense Project on the AFL-CIO Now blog: Austin’s Workers Defense Project: A Decade Winning for Workers.

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