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Undocumented immigrants and the Louisiana workforce

Since President Donald Trump ramped up efforts to deport undocumented immigrants, media coverage has focused on the emotionally charged fallout among families. However, businesses are feeling the pain as well, particularly those located in Louisiana.

The atmosphere for immigrants in the United States illegally is increasing in its hostility. Two sides never more polarized engage in loud, if not deafening arguments over travel bans, border walls, and continuing deportation efforts. The rhetoric continues to stoke fears in immigrant communities throughout the country.

Equally deafening is the silence by Louisiana businesses. Perhaps the worst kept secret is their reliance on immigrants for jobs in the construction, agricultural and hospitality industries, regardless of legal status.

The hard-line stance by the current administration has drained the pool where they pull staff members. Labor shortages are nothing new to Baton Rouge area. The recent shortfall created by the 2016 flood only made bad situations worse. Meanwhile work piles up for homebuilders with few to fill the vacancies. Reaching a level of desperation only fuels the need to go around the law.

Local builders in construction industry in Baton Rouge quietly admit that they stand to lose the most, as most of their workers are undocumented. Because they provide seasonal work, they do not use visa programs. Many try to pass the buck by retaining subcontractors who are legal citizens who, in turn, hire workers that not be.

According to the Pew Research Center, Louisiana accounts for 70,000 of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. That number is up 27% since 2009. They make up 2.2% of the state workforce in addition to the 16,000 immigrants who possess legal work visas.