DENVER (CBS4)– Many builders in Colorado support immigration reform because the industry is facing a serious labor shortage.
After the economy collapses in 2008 many building projects disappeared and with them, hundreds of thousands of jobs.
As the business returns those workers haven’t. This as many Baby Boomers retire and fewer high school graduates enter trade businesses.
Immigration reform, many believe, is critical to addressing the country’s lack of skilled workers.
“Within the Rocky Mountain region we have 20 to 25 projects going on,” said Mark Reilly with JE Dunn Construction.
He has no shortage of work but what he needs are workers who can complete the work.
“We have people who their full time job is recruiting and finding skilled trades people we need,” said Reilly.
A job that he believes Congress could make easier by fixing the country’s broken immigration system and boost the number of visas for skilled workers.
“There’s a major trickle down effect that occurs as a result of not having adequate workforce,” said Reilly.
“In Colorado what I hear time and time again is we have to stop posturing and pass a bill,” said Sen. Michael Bennet.
Bennet led the effort last year to pass an immigration reform bill in the Senate with support from Republicans and Democrats, business and labor.
The House has yet to take up an immigration bill since Republicans opposed to the measure.
“And every day that goes by our border is less secure than it would be if we passed immigration reform, our visa system remains broken and if the speaker put this bill on the house floor tomorrow it would pass,” said Bennet.
Reilly said while the legislation isn’t perfect, guest worker visas for construction are capped at 15,000 a year. If Congress doesn’t act soon the consequences are significant.
On one building site alone Reilly needs 60 more workers.
“When you think about that on one project site doesn’t sound like a lot but when you talk about multiple hundreds of projects across the County of Denver, it makes a big impact on our industry,” said Reilly.
Reilly said at JE Dunn they use E-Verify to make sure the workers they hire are in the U.S. legally. A lack of immigration reform creates an uneven playing field in the industry. Studies show at least 20 percent of construction workers are here illegally.