I live in a quiet, old neighborhood in Northern Virginia right outside of Washington, D.C., where the vast majority of the houses were built between 1950 and 1965. Given our proximity to the nation’s capital and excellent school system, this neighborhood has become very popular with many residents. In this neighborhood, when a house is bought, it is normally torn down to make room for a new, larger house – a trend that seems to affect most suburban neighborhoods in America today.
There are a number of such projects taking place in my neighborhood right now and while walking past two of the construction sites recently I could not help but notice that the full construction crews were made up of Spanish-speaking Latino workers. While most Spanish-speaking Latino workers are legal U.S. residents, many are not. According to a 2009 report by the Pew Hispanic Center, 1.7 million illegal aliens were working in the construction industry in 2008.
We cannot and should not ignore the impact that illegal immigration has had on the U.S. construction industry. Illegal aliens holding these jobs have displaced those legally eligible to work in construction and at the same time driven down wages industry-wide.
Construction used to be good, steady work for many legal workers in this country that also provided a way for laborers to learn a valuable skill. According to the Associated Builders and Contractors, unemployment in the construction industry stands at 13.5 percent, a full four percentage points above the national unemployment rate. Obviously, the slump in the housing market is the most important contributing factor to that high unemployment rate, but the effects of illegal immigration on that particular industry are well recorded and add to the misery of those who earn their livings in these trades (see Immigration, Poverty, and Low-Wage Earners).
We are currently in the midst of an important debate on how we are going to solve this unemployment issue and get our economy back on track. President Obama’s jobs plan ignores the negative effects that illegal immigration is having on many industries, and the open borders and cheap labor lobbies continue to worsen the problem by demanding amnesty for illegal aliens.
Nobody should have to speculate about who is legally eligible to work based on language or appearance. As citizens we should demand that businesses use E-Verify to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the U.S. But as consumers we are equally responsible to give our business to companies that already use E-Verify and employ legal workers.
Addressing illegal immigration at this time would open up millions of new jobs in the construction, landscaping, and service industries. These are jobs that are badly needed and most of all, are jobs that Americans and legal citizens will do.