by Howard Stephenson


On July 26, 2007, U.S. District Judge James M. Munley struck down a Hazleton, Pennsylvania city ordinance that sought to penalize landlords who rent to, and employers who hire illegal immigrants.  The controversial ruling sent shockwaves through the immigration debate because by killing the ordinance, Judge Munley re-asserted the federal government’s primacy over state and local governments in affairs relating to immigration.  As reported in the L.A. Times on July 27, Judge Munley stated, “‘Allowing states or local governments to legislate with regard to the employment of unauthorized aliens would interfere with congressional objectives’ to control immigration policy.”
The question that arises from Judge Munley’s reaffirmation of the supremacy of the federal government over the state and local governments in matters of immigration is this: What happens when the federal government incessantly neglects its responsibility in this area?  That is, after all, why this case even exists!  It is simply because Congress will not ante up on matters of immigration that state and local officials are left in the uneasy (and perhaps unconstitutional, depending on what steps they take) position of determining immigration policies for their state or locality.
States & Locals seek to make up for Congress’ failure to act
If the federal government would act to make a sensible, responsible, humane, need-filling immigration policy – which the United States is obviously urgently in need of – there would be no reason for litigation of this kind to enter our federal courts.  Furthermore, it would slow the growing trend of state legislators taking up immigration issues on their own.  According to the National Conference of State Legislators, “As of April 13, 2007, state legislators in all 50 states had introduced at least 1,169 bills and resolutions related to immigrants or immigrants and refugees.  This is more than twice the total number of bills (570) in 2006.”
It appears from our federal government’s inaction however, that our U.S. senators and representatives are content to allow the negative by-products of the current immigration system such as the superfluous court cases, the increasing number of identity thefts described in previous articles, and the unjust cost shifting associated with illegal immigration to continue, rather than fix a dreadfully broken immigration system.  It is a solemn travesty to watch one branch of the federal government declare the immigration issue a federal responsibility, and then observe the legislative branch explicitly responsible for immigration abandoning its delegated duty.
It should not be surprising that this power struggle between the negligent federal government and the states, such as Utah, that want to do something about the immigration dilemma has pushed American employers into a very insecure and uncertain position.  This is especially true of our Utah employers.  As noted several times throughout this series of articles, Utah’s consistently growing economy requires a huge influx of individuals from outside of our state to come and work here due to the substantial disparity between Utah’s elevated job growth rate and our state’s miniscule unemployment rate.   Many of the individuals in our state filling the open jobs are immigrants.  However, as has been enumerated before, with the derelict immigration system the federal government has allowed to persist, it is extremely difficult for employers to know whether the immigrant they are hiring is truly legally authorized to work in this country or not.
Immigration and Utah’s construction industry
This need for an immigrant workforce is particularly evident in Utah’s construction industry.  The job growth rate in the Utah construction industry from May 2006 to May 2007 was a monstrous 15.3% as indicated from numbers released by the Utah Department of Workforce Services in June 2007.  That humongous percentage increase is second only to the job growth rate in the natural resources industry that experienced a 15.7% increase.  To give an even greater perspective, the industry with the third highest percentage growth rate was the professional and business sector with 6%.  Following that there were numerous industries with growth in the 2% to 5% range.
Even more significant for the construction industry is the growth that the statistics denote numerically.  The 15.3% job growth increase in the construction industry represents 14,500 new jobs!  That number dwarfs all of the other industries in a side-by-side numerical job growth comparison, including the natural resources industry, where their 15.7% increase only represented 1,500 new jobs.   Moreover, the industry with the second largest increase in job growth numerically was the professional and business industry, and that capped out at 9,200.  Utah’s construction industry, therefore, is flourishing.
The construction industry’s huge job growth rate solicits two other critical points:  First, as stated by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce General Counsel, Robin Riggs, the need for workers in the construction industry in Utah is not likely to slow down at all.  He pointed to the enormous renovations in Salt Lake’s downtown and the legislature’s billion dollar road bond as evidence of that.  Second, immigrants make up a colossal amount of the workforce in the construction industry.  Clark Ivory, the Chief Executive Officer of one of Utah’s largest home builders, Ivory Homes, confirmed that approximately 2/3 of all construction workers on a site are Hispanic.  Moreover, at the United Way’s recent Synergy Summit, representatives from both Ivory Homes and Granite Construction stressed the need they have for bilingual, Spanish and English speakers at their construction locations.  Consequently, any steps taken by the local, state or federal governments regarding the availability of immigrant workers will have gigantic ramifications on the construction industry.
Utah’s Capitol renovation employs a majority of immigrant workers
To experience the impact Hispanic immigrants have on our state’s construction industry, all one needs to do is visit our very own Utah State Capitol Building.  In a situation that borders ironic, right now the Capitol building is undergoing a major renovation.  Despite the dust and the noise from the work that accompanies the overhaul, Utah law-makers and officials still occasionally visit their offices on the Capitol Building complex to perform their legislative duties, of which, most certainly, immigration research is (or should be) a part.  Thus, if one were to visit the Capitol Building one could potentially see our elected officials and staff hard at work thrashing out America’s immigration dilemma.  But before you leave the Capitol and our elected officials, make sure that you check out the cafeteria at lunch time.  While there, count the number of tables that are filled with construction workers speaking a language other than English; you will most likely find, if your experience is at all similar to ours, that the majority of the lunchroom is filled by construction workers wearing hard hats, orange construction vests, and steel-toed boots, and that most of these individuals are speaking Spanish with each other.  Ultimately what you will find in this paradoxical situation is that while Americans generally make up the people doing the state’s business at the State Capitol complex, immigrants are the large majority reconstructing the Capitol building.
Thus, in this sardonic circumstance, even the most aloof of our state legislators on the immigration issue are personally affected by the immigration dilemma since immigrants are the people performing a large majority of the reconstruction work on the building that they will soon labor in when the Legislature reconvenes next year.   More importantly, this situation illustrates how crucial an immigrant workforce has become to our Utah construction businesses.  Therefore, Utahns – including our elected officials – need immigration reform.  If immigrants are going to be such a large proportion of our fast growing construction industry, there must be a way made for them to come here humanely, legally, and in a manner that ceases the negative side-effects of the current inoperative immigration system.  Thus, all we ask is for the federal government to perform the responsibility that one of its branches has already declared to be its responsibility!
America needs comprehensive immigration reform, and we need it now.