New York Times: “From Offices to Disney World, Employers Brace for the Loss of an Immigrant Work Force”

by Joseph McKeown

As hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Haiti, Nicaragua and El Salvador prepare to lose their legal status when Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for their countries end, some employers across the country are preparing for significant losses to their workforce. These TPS recipients, along with DACA recipients whose long-term status in the US remains unclear, make up approximately a million individuals in the US, many within the American work force.

Many of these immigrants, some who own homes and have US citizen children, have become an integral part of communities as well as certain industries including construction, healthcare, and the janitorial and food service industries. Victor Moran, a Spanish immigrant and chief executive of a janitorial services company in Washington D.C., currently employs 228 immigrants with TPS, many from El Salvador. When his employees lose their legal ability to work, he will have to terminate employment for approximately twenty-six percent of his staff most likely along with some of the company’s contracts.

Stan Marek, chief executive of a Houston-based construction company, says that the TPS termination couldn’t have come at a worse time as approximately thirty of his employees will have to be let go. Workers such as these are critical towards rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey. “If they lose their status—boom, we’ll have to terminate them, and that’s not much fun, telling a guy who’s got three kids in high school, all American-born, that he’s going to be terminated," Marek said. "They’re good people, damn good people.” Assisted living facilities have also reported that they may struggle to find willing applicants to replace their immigrant employees. Even Disney World is concerned, as they currently employ more than 500 Haitians in TPS status.

Ira Mehlmann, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), believes that companies have unfairly relied on TPS and created “self-fulfilling prophecies” by offering low wages and bad working conditions. “When Americans reject the wages and working conditions they offer, they then argue that Americans are unwilling to take the jobs,” Mehlman told the New York Times.

It’s estimated that the loss of the immigrant work force due to TPS termination for El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti would deprive Social Security and Medicare of approximately $6.9 billion in contributions over the course of a decade as well as decrease the gross domestic product by $45.2 billion. More importantly, ending TPS will very likely have a devastating effect on families currently in the US, many with US citizen children. Edwin Murillo, a forty-one-year-old El Salvadorian father of two, told the Washington Post that losing TPS “would be catastrophic for my family.” TPS, he said, “gave us a chance to establish ourselves, and have the future we dreamed of.”

When these individuals begin to lose their legal status when TPS ends, some, like Noe Duarte who came to the US to flee violence and poverty in his home country, are considering remaining in the US without legal status. Duarte said that while hiding is not ideal, it is safer than returning to El Salvador. “The country is infested with gangs,” Duarte told the New York Times. “The moment we arrived, they would come to our door asking for money. And if we didn’t give it to them, we’d be killed.”