AGC Immigration Op-ed: “Terry O’Sullivan & Stephen Sandherr: Immigration fix & Pennsylvania’s construction crisis”


While Congress has long signaled that a legislative fix for a group of immigrants could come soon, it can’t be soon enough for the thousands of affected Pennsylvanians and the industries in which they work.

Currently more than 5,000 immigrants with Temporary Protected Status reside and work in Pennsylvania, and most of them work in the construction industry. They are here because of the longstanding TPS program designed for those who have fled natural disasters and conflicts in their home countries, but the program is now in limbo.

The Trump administration has terminated status for TPS-holders despite ongoing instability in the affected countries. Legal challenges and a recent Department of Homeland Security extension have paused TPS deportations temporarily, but without congressional action, more than 350,000 immigrants in Pennsylvania and across the country with temporary status face removal.

Within the labor movement and the business community, there is a remarkable consensus and feeling of great urgency for congressional action to protect these workers’ status.

The economic threat is particularly acute in the construction industry. Construction employs more workers with TPS than any other industry. Many of the men and women in this program are skilled union workers — including members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America — who literally build the state and America. These workers are vital to the state’s construction industry, and their disappearance could severely disrupt a sector that is already stretched by growth and a shortage of workers. Pennsylvania added 10,700 construction jobs from January 2018 to January 2019, and has an estimated 12,000 job openings in construction.

The construction industry in Pennsylvania and across the nation can ill afford the loss of skilled workers at a time of record low unemployment and worker shortages, and with communities still recovering from hurricane disasters that caused billions of dollars in damages over the last two years and for which extensive labor is required.

Natural disasters aside, congressional leaders have pledged to address our nation’s infrastructure crisis. That means repairing roads and bridges, and building out our energy infrastructure and water systems. We are ready to do that work and build America, but we can’t do it if thousands of highly skilled construction workers are ripped from job sites across America.

Immigrants with TPS status are long-term members of the Pennsylvania community. They have lived and worked here for 10, 15, even 20 years, have started families and paid taxes, and are raising U.S. citizen children. Nonetheless, they face deportation, the loss of their hard-earned careers and the choice of whether to leave their children and families behind or bring them to an unfamiliar and unstable place.

Business groups and labor have been clear that the humanitarian and economic cost of the termination of these programs is too high to bear. Congress must address the crisis for these immigrants with legislation that will provide a path to permanency for them and their families and stability for the industries in which they work.