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New crackdown on immigrant workforce

By 2020 many Virginia workplaces could look very different

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Print this page by Tim Loughran
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An immigration advocacy group protests an end to Temporary Protected
Status for Salvadorans living in the U.S. AP photo

Since the Trump administration announced in January that it was terminating a federal program benefiting immigrants from El Salvador, the decision has raised concern about its effect on economic growth in Virginia.

Signed into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush to provide relief to nations recovering from war and natural disasters, the federal government’s Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, was first extended to Salvadorans fleeing the Central American nation’s 12-year civil war that ended officially in 1992. 

Two massive earthquakes in 2001 that devastated the capital, San Salvador, permitted another wave of legal immigration from El Salvador in the years that followed. This year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) ruled that reconstruction from those disasters was complete and the 190,000 to 200,000 TPS beneficiaries now living across the U.S. will have to return home by September of next year.

Most Salvadoran TPS families live among their countrymen in and around a handful of large U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. The City Data real estate website, using what it calls a proprietary combination of data sets, reports that Maryland is home to five of the top 10 population clusters of U.S. residents born in El Salvador; Virginia is home to 23 of the top 100 clusters.

The Center for Migration Studies and other demographers report that construction companies, landscapers, restaurants, day-care providers and grocery stores are the U.S. businesses employing the highest numbers of TPS holders from the 10 countries that now benefit from that program. 

The DHS ruling on El Salvador followed last year’s decision to terminate the TPS program extended to Sudan, Nicaragua and Haiti. The TPS program for Honduras is under review. No decision has yet been made regarding the other nations still in the program, including Yemen, Nepal, South Sudan and Syria.

In his successful 2016 campaign for the White House, Donald Trump  promised to cut the flow of refugees to enhance national security against terrorism and to reduce immigration — both legal and undocumented — to protect jobs and raise wages for U.S. citizens. As this issue of Virginia Business went to press, the White House was supporting two immigration bills being evaluated in the Republican-controlled Congress.

The Senate’s RAISE Act (SB1720) and the House of Representatives’ Securing America’s Future Act (HB4760) call for cutting legal immigration by more than 400,000 people by next year, ending the nation’s decades-old diversity lottery visa system and limiting to spouses and minor children the family members that U.S. citizens can sponsor for future citizenship.

Virginia’s Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-6th District), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced HB4760, which has more than 70 Republican co-sponsors. Privacy advocates and deficit hawks give it little chance of passing in its original form. It would mandate the use of a national ID card by all citizens and legal immigrants while calling for $130 billion in funding for the Border Patrol over the course of five years — with no budget cuts to pay for it.

However, if HB4760 passes the House and the Senate, the new law would require biometric identifiers for all legal visitors to the country to help the Border Patrol and DHS agents determine who has overstayed their tourism, student- or temporary-work visas. The law would also mandate that all U.S. employers use the free, E-Verify online screening tool to determine whether potential employees can legally work in the United States.

Last October, the American Immigration Council released a report claiming that 12 percent of Virginia’s residents are foreign born, 17 percent of the commonwealth’s workers are immigrants, and foreign-born entrepreneurs account for more than 20 percent of the state’s self-employed business owners. The report also said immigrants “represent more than a fifth of Virginians working in the computer and math sciences.”

In a letter to the DHS co-signed by 23 Democratic U.S. senators, Virginia’s Mark Warner and Tim Kaine said that ending the TPS benefit for tax-paying, business-owning Salvadorans would not only hurt current U.S. foreign and economic development policy in Central America aimed at reducing illegal immigration to the United States but also cut more than $100 billion from the U.S. economy during the next 10 years as well as “billions of dollars in Social Security and Medicare contributions.”

“The renewal of El Salvador’s TPS designation has received strong support from leaders in both business and labor, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and the SEIU [Service Employees International Union],” the senators wrote. “Ending TPS protections for El Salvador will needlessly push nearly 200,000 hardworking immigrants into the shadows, hurting employers in industries across our economy.”

Estimates of how much the U.S. economy may be hurt by ending the TPS program for just three countries — El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras — vary widely. The Center for American Progress says the loss will be more than $160 billion over the course of 10 years.

Another group, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), says the U.S. economy might shrink by just $45 billion in that same period without the economic contributions from those workers and business owners.

The ILRC also estimates that ending TPS protections for Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras will cost the Social Security and Medicare trust funds almost $7 billion in the next decade. U.S. business owners who employ them would pay about $1 billion in routine employee turnover costs, and U.S. taxpayers would pay more than $3 billion to arrest, process and send home all those former TPS holders who are expected to remain in the country and continue working without legal authorization.

For its part, the NumbersUSA organization, which advocates numerous revisions in U.S. immigration policy to benefit “both U.S.-born and foreign-born citizens,” says it supports the end of automatic annual renewals of the TPS program for nations like El Salvador.

“By ending the Salvadoran TPS,” the Trump administration “has taken a major step toward saving the TPS so it can be used for future emergencies,” said Roy Beck, the group’s president, in a statement.

“The past practice of allowing foreign nationals to remain in the United States long after an initial emergency in their home countries has ended has undermined the integrity of the program,” he added.

The Trump administration also has begun to fulfill the president’s repeated campaign promises to eliminate “the magnet” of American jobs for undocumented workers.

In early January, signaling a return to the workplace raids used heavily during the George W. Bush administration, agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency paid a visit to dozens of 7-Eleven convenience stores in many U.S. states, arresting more than 20 undocumented workers and serving store managers and owners with notices that they would be subject to follow-up audits of their human-resources records for possible violations of federal immigration law.

Last October, ICE director Thomas D. Homan said in a speech that “not only are we going to prosecute the employers who knowingly hire the illegal aliens, we are going to detain and remove the illegal alien workers.”


Immigrant workers in Virginia

According to the American Immigration Council, 17 percent of workers in Virginia are immigrants. Immigrant workers were most numerous in the following industries:

Industry Number of Immigrant Workers
Professional, Scientific and Technical Services 89,022
Accommodation and Food Services 84,071
Retail Trade 82,410
Health Care and Social Assistance 81,905
Construction 77,417
Analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey 1-year PUMS data by the American Immigration Council.

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