Trump curbs blow for migrant workers

Two decades ago, Fatima Nolasco walked over the border into the United States in search of a better life, going on to build a successful business, and a new home. Now, after Donald Trump decided to end a programme that has allowed her to work legally in the country, along with 200,000 fellow immigrants from El Salvador, she fears she is about to lose it all. Unless Congress can find a long-term solution to replace the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programme granted to Salvadorans in 2001 after two earthquakes devastated their country — Nolasco will lose her legal immigration rights in September 2019.

Under the plan’s protections, Nolasco started a small construction and home remodeling business with her husband Walter Dubon, a permanent legal resident. Today, they employ 20 workers and pay up to $30,000 a year in business taxes, on top of individual taxes. “We’ve been paying taxes for 16 years,” she said. “We never thought this would end like this. We always had hope that they would give us the opportunity.” While Trump takes credit for solid growth and jobs gains during his first year in office, economists and business leaders warn that expelling immigrant workers wholesale would cause a major hit to the economy.

This would be especially damaging at a time when firms increasingly complain they cannot find workers, especially in fields like construction. One analysis shows that if Salvadoran TPS holders as well as tens of thousands from Honduras and Haiti are removed from the labour force, the United States would lose $164 billion in GDP over the next decade. As much as 88 per cent of those immigrants work — much higher than the rate among US citizens — while about a third own homes. If sent home, they face an uncertain future.

While the US government deems that conditions in El Salvador no longer justify protected status for its citizens, it still has a travel warning cautioning Americans that “gang activity, such as extortion, violent street crime and narcotics and arms trafficking, is widespread.” Trump also announced the end of another programme providing legal status to immigrants brought to the country as young children. If Congress fails to find a compromise, 800,000 people covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will lose their protections on March 5.
Economists warn the US could lose $215 billion in GDP if the so-called ‘Dreamers’ leave the labour pool.
Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are among more than 100 major companies whose top executives signed a letter calling for protection for the ‘Dreamers’, and warning that failure to act “will lead to businesses losing valuable talent, cause disruptions in the workforce and result in significant costs.”
Miguel Aguiler, who was brought to the United States from Mexico when he was 11, has found a route to legal status, but fears for his fellow ‘Dreamers’.
“It’s pretty ridiculous that the president wants to do away with so many young people who do nothing but contribute to this country,” he said.
“We’ve lived here all our lives, we consider ourselves American, even though we don’t have the paper to show it.”
After passage of DACA, he attended a US college on a soccer scholarship and then was drafted to play in the domestic professional soccer league — the first undocumented immigrant to achieve that goal.
He later married a US citizen, his college sweetheart, which allowed him to gain status as a permanent legal resident with a so-called green card.
Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, is optimistic Democrats and Republicans in Congress will find a solution to help ‘Dreamers’. “For better or for worse, the administration has provided a deadline to Congress to figure this out,” he said. — AFP

Heather SCOTT