HOUSTON/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – In the coming weeks, as Houston turns its attention to rebuilding areas devastated by Tropical Storm Harvey, people like Jay De Leon are likely to play an outsized role – if they stay around.
De Leon, 47, owns a small construction business in Houston, and he and his 10 employees do exactly the kind of demolition and refurbishing the city will need. But like a large number of construction workers in Texas, De Leon and most of his workers live in the United States illegally, and that could make things complicated.
The Pew Research Center estimated last year that 28 percent of Texas’s construction workforce is undocumented, while other studies have put the number as high as 50 percent. Construction employed 23 percent of working undocumented adults in Texas at the end of 2014, higher than any other sector, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
However, undocumented immigrants are growing increasingly nervous in Texas because of an immigration crackdown by the Trump administration that has cast a wide net.
In addition, undocumented immigrants were worried about a new Texas law that had been scheduled to take effect on Friday, which would have barred cities in the state from embracing so-called sanctuary policies that offer safe harbor to illegal immigrants, and would have allowed local police to inquire about a person’s immigration status.
That law was temporarily enjoined by a federal judge late Wednesday, but the state’s governor has vowed to appeal.
De Leon, who has lived in the country for 20 years and has two citizen children, says the changes have spooked the city’s migrant workforce. In recent weeks, he said, one of his employees left the state and another returned to Mexico. Both feared that if they stayed they risked arrest.
Departing workers, he says, pose a problem for Houston in the wake of Harvey, which has killed at least 17 people and caused flood damage to commercial buildings, houses, roads and…