The current debate in Congress over immigration reform could affect the businesses of all NAHB members, regardless of whether they use immigrant labor.
In the coming weeks and months, decisions are expected on whether an employer must verify the legal status of their subcontractors or subcontractors’ workers; if the government can pursue legal action against employers who are unaware of undocumented immigrants on their job site; and whether foreign construction workers will be excluded from any new guest worker program.
Any and all of these issues affect the bottom line of all businesses in the residential construction industry.
From the start, NAHB has been active, engaged and getting its message, priorities and concerns out to lawmakers and the media.
Even before any legislation was unveiled in the 113th Congress, Utah home builder and developer Christopher Gamvroulas testified on Capitol Hill in February that any mandatory E-Verify employee verification system must be fair and efficient, and not impose undue burdens on employers.
Gamvrouslas told the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security that a fair and workable E-Verify system for all U.S. employers should:
- Maintain current law, holding U.S. employers accountable only for verifying the identity and work authorization status of their direct employees. It’s both unfair and infeasible for Congress to require employers to verify a subcontractor’s employees.
- Maintain present law that forbids employers from knowingly hiring undocumented workers, including subcontracted workers. NAHB fully supports maintaining this “knowing” standard to ensure employers understand their obligations under the law.
- Ensure that any compulsory federal E-Verify program contains a robust “safe harbor” for employers so that those who use the system in good faith cannot be held liable for errors in the E-Verify system by any federal agency, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or by the employer’s workers.
- Include a strong pre-emption clause preventing state and local governments from creating their own versions of verification requirements. If employers are going to be required to use the federal E-Verify program, they must be assured that they don’t have to meet other potentially conflicting state or local compliance standards.
- Allow employers to begin the E-Verify process when a worker accepts a position, rather than waiting until after the start date. This will provide businesses more lead time to handle tentative non-confirmations for those who are ineligible to work.
- Allow employers to access the E-Verify system via telephone and online so it is more workable for small employers.
NAHB Chairman Rick Judson reiterated these points on May 16 when he participated in a congressional roundtable discussionon the E-Verify program held by the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
“Our top concern regarding E-Verify is the employer-employee relationship,” said Judson. “Our industry is in desperate need of labor. We just want to comply with the law and make sure that workers are hired properly.”
This was Judson’s second appearance before Congress to discuss immigration reform. On April 22, he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. (Editor’s note: On May 21, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill by a 13-5 vote, and the full Senate is expected to consider the legislation in June.)
In that testimony, Judson told Congress that guest worker provisions must be improved to address the significant role that foreign workers play in the housing industry and to help alleviate current labor shortages that are hampering the housing and economic recovery.
On May 13, NAHB joined with other construction industry groups to thank Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) for their efforts to address these guest worker problems in S. 744. The two senators are leading the charge to remove inflexible requirements and overall visa caps in the underlying legislation that arbitrarily single out the construction industry.
Very few business groups are granted the opportunity to testify before Congress, and it is even more of a rarity for an organization to appear before congressional committees on multiple occasions to discuss the same topic. This speaks to the clout that NAHB has on Capitol Hill as the leading advocate for the home building industry.
Message to the Media
Since the introduction of Senate and House immigration bills over the past month, NAHB has aggressively taken its message to the media.
Judson was interviewed by The Daily Caller and La Opinion about his testimony on immigration reform and NAHB CEO Jerry Howard spoke with the Wall Street Journal and L.A. Times on the Senate immigration bill.
Meanwhile, NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe has been cited by the Associated Press, CNN Money and Marketplace on how a shortage of skilled construction workers in some markets is impeding the housing recovery.
NAHB continues to work with like-minded industry groups and to meet with key House and Senate lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle to push for reform that:
- Protects the nation’s borders.
- Keeps the focus of E-Verify on the direct employer-employee relationship.
- Maintains the current “knowing” liability standard so that employers may easily understand their role and obligations.
- Creates a market-based visa program that would allow more immigrants to legally enter the construction workforce each year.