by Adolfo Pesquera
In response to recent federal immigration decisions, labor unions in the construction trades and other fields have been mobilizing to support immigrants working under the Temporary Protected Status program.
In November, two separate decisions were issued by the Department of Homeland Security. The first would end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Nicaraguans in 12 months and the second declaration ends the status for Haitians on July 22, 2019.
It is anticipated that DHS will make a decision on the protected status of Hondurans by May 2018.
After the DHS action affecting Nicaraguans, several labor unions joined forces to oppose the deporation of TPS workers.
Iron Workers, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), the International Union of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers, Unite Here, and the United Food and Commercial Workers launched Working Families United on November 16.
Also backed by the AFL-CIO and an initial fund of $1 million, this campaign is supporting congressional legislation intended to save TPS, which the Trump Administration is trying to eliminate.
Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, D-New York, introduced H.R. 4253-American Promise Act of 2017 on Nov. 3 to protect from deportation individuals who receive Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure.
“Those in the TPS program are some of our most vulnerable neighbors who have fled natural disasters and political conflict at great personal risk,” Velázquez said. “It would be inhumane to force these families and individuals who have built lives in the U.S. to abruptly leave.”
U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, both D-Maryland, are the Senate co-sponsors.
IUPAT General President Ken Rigmaiden said the decision on Nicaraguans was “unconscionable, a threat to our economy and undermines the fabric of American Society.
“Terminating the status of these workers will have a chilling effect on the construction industry and the ability of developers, contractors and unions to fulfill the workforce needs of that industry. No less than 23 percent of TPS recipients have found gainful employment in the construction industry as union members.
“These workers are documented, pay taxes and ar able to send money home to help rebuild the economics of their homes countries, creating the stability needed for a safe return, just as TPS was established to do.
Citing estimates from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Rigmaiden said, “The decision of DHS to terminate TPS would have immediate, expensive ramifications for our country and industry, costing taxpayers $3 billion, a $45 billion reduction in GDP, $6.9 billion reduction in Social Security and Medicare contributions and nealry $1 billion in employer costs combined with an already stressed skilled worker pool.”
Iron Workers said more than 60,000 TPS recipients work in the construction industry and many are ironworkers. This blow to the construction workforce would undercut wage and safety standards for everyone in the industry, the union said.
“We must keep pressure on this administration and this Congress to prevent the cancellation of these programs,” said IW General President Eric Dean. “It’s my hope that we don’t lose sight of the smaller and important programs like TPS and Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program as we move forward and toward a broader goal of citizenship and immigration reform.
“We must leave no one behind. Our union was formed by immigrants. Our union probably has one of the highest percentages of native Americans, but after that, we’re all immigrants and we’re all descendants of immigrants,” Dean said.
Industry icons such as The Walt Disney Company moved the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to publicly appeal to DHS to extend TPS.
There are over 320,000 TPS holders in the United States. Many have been here for decades and have raised families that include U.S.-born children.
There are 10 nations currently designated for TPS: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen. However, El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras represent the largest number of TPS holders.
TPS recipients are heavily concentrated in six states: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Maryland and Virginia.
According to the Center for Migration Studies, there are 19 states that have more than 1,000 TPS recipients from El Salvador, Haiti and/or Honduras.