New Book Delves into Immigration Issue

Mark L. Johnson / November 2020

A new book, “Deconstructed: An Insider’s View of Illegal Immigration and the Building Trades,” co-authored by Stan Marek, CEO of the Marek Family of Companies in Texas, and Loren C. Steffy, a former Houston Chronicle columnist, is due out any day.
    
The book unravels the harm to construction caused by a shadow economy, as seen by Marek, an advocate for simple immigration reform.
    
“Immigrants have long been the source of America’s economic strength,” says the inside flap of Deconstructed. “Yet our immigration laws have always been ill-defined and arbitrary, based largely on the fears of the moment and aimed at limiting particular groups of people.”
    
Why is immigration reform important to Marek?

ID and Tax
“We need something for the 11 million people who have not qualified for DACA, but are here and are part of our essential workforce,” Marek told me recently.
    
DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, gives work permits and protection from deportation to some 649,000 young immigrants who grew up undocumented in the United States, according to Pew Research Center. (In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Trump administration’s termination of DACA.)
    
Marek feels the DACA program’s pathway to legal work status should be made permanent—and be a model for a similar program for undocumented adults.
    
“Steffy and Marek propose a simple and politically feasible way forward, a program that would identify and tax undocumented workers in America and then allow them to participate in the economy without fear of deportation,” writes Stephen L. Klineberg, Ph.D., professor emeritus of sociology at Rice University in an Amazon.com review of the book. “The immigrants would still be ineligible to vote or to receive welfare benefits, but they would at last be able to come out of the shadows and into the economic mainstream.”
    
Others agree.
    
“The issue of undocumented migration is, despite the hype, largely under control, meaning that there may be a political opportunity to propose an ID and tax plan,” say Tony Payan and Pamela Lizette Cruz of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy in their May 2020 policy brief, “Exploring Immigration Alternatives: Identification and Taxation of Undocumented Immigrants Residing in the United States.”
    
“Most undocumented individuals have been living in the United States for over 15 years,” write Payan and Cruz, “and many have long-established relationships with their employers.”
    
“We couldn’t deport them all even if we wanted to,” Marek said.
    
Still, the Trump administration planned an immigration enforcement blitz in October that would target arrests in U.S. cities and jurisdictions that have adopted “sanctuary” policies, reported The Washington Post.
    
“We have to get beyond this,” Marek said. “These people are here. We’re not going to deport them. I mean, they’re working on Trump’s golf courses and building his buildings.”
    
Marek shared a theory with me: “It would not surprise me that if Trump wins [the election], he will totally flip-flop. He needs those workers, and he can be the salvation of amnesty, just like Reagan did in ’86, and it’s going to be the Trump bill—‘I’m going to be the hero’—the exact kind of [thing] he would do. He doesn’t need his base once he wins. He needs to do what’s right for himself—and for his hotels and for all of his ventures.”

Wanted: A Steady Workforce
Rational Middle Media, an organization sponsored by Shell Oil Company and Center for Houston’s Future (Marek serves on the latter’s board of directors), produces videos and podcasts about the immigration debate.
    
Podcast 39 featured Mark Erlich, a former union leader for the New England Regional Council of Carpenters and fellow at the Harvard Law School. Erlich spoke about misclassification, a tactic some construction companies use to cut labor costs.
    
“In an industry like construction, which is where this practice [misclassification] began in the ’70s and ’80s, you end up realizing somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% in labor savings,” Erlich said. “Materials cost the same for everyone. So if you can shave 30% on labor costs, you put yourself at a substantial competitive advantage.”
    
This is why Marek Companies finds it harder and harder to maintain a steady workforce.
    
“A lot of our people have an opportunity to go to work for a competitor who pays by the foot or pays a wage but no payroll taxes,” Marek said.
    
“The whole theme of my book is we have to get back to employers having employees, and provide training, tools, equipment, safety, skills—and build teams,” he said. “What we have is workers who get it done, but they’re not paying taxes. And, they’re people who can’t finance a car or a house, because they don’t have [true] employment.”

Mark L. Johnson writes for the wall and ceiling industry. He can be reached via linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.