Contractors Discuss Immigration with Rep. Mark Sanford

I traveled to Bluffton, South Carolina yesterday to participate in a contractors round table with U.S. Congressman Mark Sanford (SC-1). Rep. Sanford joined approximately 25 contractors immediately after completing his eighth town hall in his district. The group of contractors employs between 2,500-3,000 people, with 62-63% being Hispanic.

Rep. Sanford opened the meeting by sharing seven major areas that will be addressed this year, though immigration dominated the discussion following his opening thoughts:

1. Healthcare (possible new bill within the next month)
2. Tax policy
3. Continuing resolution/budget
4. Debt ceiling (The plan appears to be to set financial limits instead of a just a cutoff date. He used the analogy of giving a credit card to someone and telling them they have a $10,000 limit instead of saying they could use the credit card until October).
5. Transportation – The money will probably be around $1 trillion
6. Border wall construction and work permits
7. Flood insurance reform

Healthcare

Rep. Sanford felt that a rushed timetable led to the demise of the GOP’s first attempt at healthcare reform this year. He stated that AHCA and Medicare Part D were discussed 10 times longer than the recent bill. He said there was just not enough time for people to buy into the bill and to offer up meaningful amendments.

A new bill would keep the pre-existing conditions provision and allow children to remain on their parent’s insurance until age 26.

One change being sought is to move the cost ratio between the oldest participants and youngest participants. The current structure of the healthcare law sets a maximum premium difference between the oldest and youngest participants at 3-1. Rep. Sanford sees a possible change closer to 5-1. The idea is to get more young people enrolled at lower premiums, not to increase the premiums of older citizens.

Another likely change is to allow states to decide whether to keep all, some, or none of the Title 1 provisions. Title I, among other provisions, imposes penalties for not having health insurance and penalizes businesses that are above certain employee thresholds and don’t provide health insurance. States could decide whether to have a single payer system, a government run marketplace, allow more open competition, or some other combination thereof.

Immigration Reform Desperately Needed

There is currently more demand for construction than available workers in coastal Georgia and South Carolina, which means a fix is needed soon to prevent the price of construction, including governmental work, from continuing to increase. The consensus among the contractors was a need to legally tap into the immigrant labor force.

Some ideas shared by the contractors included:

  • Allowing contractors to identify and sponsor immigrant workers that would be protected from deportation and allowed to work in the United States. They would be required to pay taxes.
  • A pathway to citizenship by charging illegal immigrants a certain fee to begin the process towards becoming a citizen. A person would be given a national ID number that would allow them to work and pay taxes, get a driver’s license, and the ability to purchase insurance for themselves and their vehicles. They would be placed on probation for a specified period of time and if they committed any felonies or repeated misdemeanors they would be deported. Once the probation period was over, they could enter the queue for citizenship.

While Rep. Sanford agreed that these were good ideas, he does not see any chance of a comprehensive immigration plan being proposed within the next 3 years, much less being passed into law. He stated that too many Republicans feel that Hispanics would lean democratic in voting and that Trump was very clear during his Presidential campaign of doing something drastic about illegal immigrants.

Rep. Sanford believes that work permits and visas are the most likely compromises for filling contracting vacancies. Approximately 1 million people enter the United States on visas each year. However, H-2B visas are the only classification available for the type of contracting workers needed. This classification is capped at 66,000 per year for the entire nation, which is just a drop in the bucket for the actual need in the coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina.

There was a sense of frustration from the contractors that they are playing by the rules by using e-verify, while other contractors are not being punished for not participating. No fines have been issued to employers in South Carolina for not participating in the e-verify program.

The lack of enforcement and the shortage of workers has led to a surge in illegal workers being paid in cash and paying no income or FICA taxes. One roofing contractor shared the story that six of his workers were arrested for improperly filling out I-9 paperwork. The workers each paid a $600 fine and are still working on roofs with a different contractor for cash.

My Final Thoughts

The solutions to these two issues and the others listed by Rep. Sanford are definitely not going to be easy, but I am glad that they are being discussed. They are real problems that are impacting all Americans. Rep. Sanford stated the importance of being prudent in not creating more problems while trying to fix the problems we already have.

I applaud Rep. Sanford for holding town halls across his District. He stated that there is a lot of yelling, especially in the first 15 minutes, but he continues to hold them to listen to his constituents from different political persuasions. It is time for all of our Georgia Republican Congressmen to do the same.

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Indypendant
Indypendant

Sanford, the adulterer (and liar), admitting that Republicans put party ahead of country.

Indypendant
Indypendant

Sanford, the adulterer (and liar), admitting that Republicans put party ahead of country.

xdog
xdog

Thanks for the report. I give Sanford credit for having the guts to tell the contractors to their face that they can’t expect any relief to their problems with immigration from the gop. I think he’s way too optimistic that they’ll come up with any substantive changes to health care. On taxes I expect they’ll lower individual and corporate rates and declare victory, ignoring the revenue loss. If anything like $1 trillion is allocated for transportation it’ll result in the biggest giveaway since US contractors hit Baghdad. My very modest goals for this Congress is that they shy away from… Read more »

Ellynn
Ellynn

Nice summary… I’m a little jealous. I would have enjoyed the industry related chatter. Can we get one of our congress members to host one here in Georgia? Rep Allen seems like a good fit to hold one…

gcp
gcp

Rather than bring in more immigrants why not encourage more US citizens to enter the construction industry. There was a time ( not too long ago) in metro Atlanta and may other areas when construction workers were all US/English speaking citizens. Unfortunately contractors found that it was cheaper to hire illegals. Now contractors want to legalize illegals and eventually make them citizens.

Ellynn
Ellynn

First, I have either grown up with or worked with many different types of construction crews in 6 states in both the South and the Midwest sections of the country. Not one of them was a fully US born all English speaking construction site. I learn some basic Italian from the marble and tile union crews I visited on jobsite as a child when my father ran deliveries for his company. My grandfather’s best friend was a Polish stone cuter who came over in the late 1920’s. The steel workers I meet in the 1980’s were from a Indian Reservation… Read more »

ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta

I havent asked anyone, but what do those jobs pay? Are immigrants depressing wages? Also, what you are talking about isnt “construction” work in general. You are talking about the specialized trades, which are much closer to art forms. Its not easy to learn many of these trades, and many are quite specific (plaster comes to mind).

Ellynn
Ellynn

When dealing in multi million dollar projects, you have subcontractors hired by a General Contractor who requires skilled workers in that specific trade. It does not need to be craft or specialty trade. You have a mason crew who only lays CMU block. You have concrete crews who only layout and form concrete. And they better be good at what they do or my companies’ field inspector is going to make them fix it or do it over. You can have a subcontractor that just lays out plumbing. You have subcontractor who just lay out metal studs and sheet rock.… Read more »

gcp
gcp

When I worked construction in metro Atlanta we all were US citizens; bricklayers, carpenters, laborers, everyone. I never heard another language on the job site. Construction may be a “melting” but that melting must have occurred pretty quickly back then. Today there doesn’t seem to be any melting.

Benevolus
Benevolus

“contractors found that it was cheaper to illegally hire illegals.”

I fixed that for you.

ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta

Mark Sanford and those like him continue to have no concept at all of how our fiat monetary system works…none…zero. The credit card analogy is just wrong and makes no sense. The US government creates the currency and owes all its debts in that same currency. Nothing backs up the currency’s value other than you must use it to pay your taxes. Debt is irrelevant unless you are creating inflation by having too many dollars chasing naturally scarce goods (not fake scarce caused by consolidation or monopoly pricing power…which is a whole other subject). Sanford does not understand this, nor… Read more »

Saltycracker
Saltycracker

Few governments in the world get less for their taxpayer dollar than the US on infrastructure, education, healthcare or military nor will virtually unlimited funding get programs under control.

Construction worker numbers are crippled by several factors, the primary ones are restricted visas, taxpayer subsidies to potential workers and regulations.

Spending $20 million on a house seat is a clue that no solution for the average taxpayer is on the horizon.

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

“The current structure of the healthcare law sets a maximum premium difference between the oldest and youngest participants at 3-1. Rep. Sanford sees a possible change closer to 5-1. The idea is to get more young people enrolled at lower premiums, not to increase the premiums of older citizens.”

That’s a Laffer for you. Hold old folks premiums constant, and a 5:1 ratio reduces the premiums paid by the young by 40%. No worries, more heathcare services will be required but we’ll make it up on volume.

Just like 4% GDP growth when we cut taxes on the very rich.