JENALIA MORENO and SUSAN
September 25, 2008
All across southeast Texas, roofs need repair, debris must be discarded and towns hope to rebuild.
Hurricane Ike’s destruction is sparking one of the largest rebuilding efforts the state has seen in decades, but at the same time is highlighting a thorny facet of the region’s labor force: A lot of the recovery work will be done by illegal immigrants.
Homeowners have already turned to day laborers — many of whom are undocumented — to help clear brush, tent roofs and repair other storm damage. Contractors have hired them to rebuild or restore businesses and the city’s infrastructure.
And the major work of rebuilding small towns along the Gulf Coast or big homes in Galveston will likely be aided by undocumented workers.
But this tug and pull of the labor force highlights an uneasy dilemma: The region needs the muscle of undocumented immigrants, but simultaneously is a cog in a broader crackdown of illegal immigrants at worksites.
“There’s just no mechanism in place right now to provide those important laborers work authorization,” said Leigh Ganchan, a Houston immigration attorney with Haynes and Boone. “It’s a shame that employers can’t tap into a whole segment of society that’s willing and capable to provide those services. Our nation is more vulnerable than it would like to admit, I think. Vulnerable, meaning we need people to help us rebuild our infrastructure after major disasters like this.”