Texas lawmakers may be leading the charge to derail President Obama’s executive action on immigration. But the White House wants it known: Not everyone in the Lone Star State wants to scrap the policy.
On that list is a conservative Houston-based construction mogul who says giving the state’s undocumented workforce legal status would also elevate the standard of living for workers already here legally. Because undocumented workers are cheap labor for employers, legal workers must accept low wages if they want to be hired.
"The only way that [undocumented workers] make it is working 50 to 80 hours a week," Stan Marek, the president and CEO of the Marek Family of Companies, said during a White House conference call on Tuesday. "That depresses the wages for everybody."
Joining Marek on the call was U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary (and former San Antonio mayor) Julián Castro, Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez and Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.
The president’s executive action would offer a temporary reprieve from deportation proceedings and a renewable work permit to as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Texas currently has about 1.5 million undocumented immigrants living within its borders. About 533,000 of them — roughly 40 percent — have children who are legal residents or citizens. About 1.15 million have been in the country for at least five years.
The press call came as a decision on the legality of Obama’s executive action looms in a federal district court in Brownsville. Gov. Greg Abbott filed the lawsuit against the feds in December, while still the state's attorney general. The suit alleges that the action is unconstitutional and that Texas would suffer because the policy would act as a magnet to lure more unauthorized immigrants to the state.
More than two dozen states have since joined Texas’ efforts to block the policy.
Muñoz, the White House Domestic Policy Council chief, dismissed those allegations and said the president’s actions mirror what his predecessors have done for decades.
“The notion that the executive action would draw more folks across the border is simply false,” she said. “We are very confident that the president’s actions are compliant with the law, and we look forward to implementing them.”
Garcia, the Harris County sheriff, said the president's change would actually promote law and order in his county because people would be more willing to cooperate with law enforcement efforts to fight crime.
“When there are questions and concerns that local law enforcement may become more concerned with a person’s immigration status rather than information that they have regarding cartels, human traffickers or other individuals that are interested in causing harm in our communities, like domestic or international terrorism, it impedes public safety,” he said.
Marek has been a fixture at the Texas Capitol in prior legislative sessions and is well known for his efforts to close loopholes in state law that allow employers in the construction industry to hire undocumented workers. By misclassifying workers as contractors, the employers can avoid verifying their legal status. The designation also allows employers to avoid paying workers' compensation and providing health care.
Marek said the president’s plan would force dishonest employers across the country to play by the rules.
“The more people that legitimate companies like me can hire away from those unscrupulous contractors and put them to work on payrolls," the fewer workers there will be for bad-actor employers, Marek said.
“Nothing is going to fix this faster than a labor shortage,” he added.