Trump's tougher immigration policy extends to workers post-Harvey

WASHINGTON, Sept 1 (Reuters) - The Trump administration, in line with its tough immigration policy, is keeping red tape in place that could make it harder for immigrants in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey to find jobs with contractors, a decision critics say is likely to slow the Gulf Coast's recovery.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Republican President George W. Bush temporarily exempted employers hiring Katrina victims from verifying that new employees were authorized to work in the United States. The 45-day suspension allowed survivors whose identification documents had been lost during the storm to work while awaiting new ones, but it also allowed undocumented immigrants to quickly find jobs with contractors.

SEE ALSO: Trump to visit victims of unprecedented floods in Texas and Louisiana

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said in a statement on Wednesday that while it will expedite the replacement of lost documents for storm victims, employment verification requirements will remain in place, a move that drew both praise and scorn from politicians and others.

"With so much rebuilding needed, we should make it easier for folks to get back to work," said Representative Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat whose constituency includes parts of southeast Texas. "Unfortunately, always overflowing with anti-immigrant hysteria, the Trump administration is choosing red tape and bureaucracy instead of learning lessons from past disasters."

President Donald Trump, a Republican, built a base of support in the 2016 election campaign by vowing to stop people immigrating to the United States illegally and is pushing for a wall to be built along the U.S. border with Mexico. But business leaders say immigrants make important contributions and that any effort to limit their employment will hurt economic growth and tax revenue.

Representative Marc Veasey, another Texas Democrat, said the government should not penalize Harvey victims.

18 PHOTOS
Trump tweets about Hurricane Harvey
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Trump tweets about Hurricane Harvey
I have spoken w/ @GovAbbott of Texas and @LouisianaGov Edwards. Closely monitoring #HurricaneHarvey developments & here to assist as needed.
Received a #HurricaneHarvey briefing this morning from Acting @DHSgov Secretary Elaine Duke, @FEMA_Brock,… https://t.co/VGdeIdgLbO
I encourage everyone in the path of #HurricaneHarvey to heed the advice & orders of their local and state officials. https://t.co/N6uEWCZUrv
Just arrived at Camp David where I am closely watching the path and doings of Hurricane Harvey, as it strengthens to a Category 3. BE SAFE!
Just arrived at Camp David, where I am monitoring the path and doings of Hurricane Harvey (as it strengthens to a Class 3). 125 MPH winds!
Storm turned Hurricane is getting much bigger and more powerful than projected. Federal Government is on site and ready to respond. Be safe!
At the request of the Governor of Texas, I have signed the Disaster Proclamation, which unleashes the full force of government help!
You are doing a great job - the world is watching! Be safe. https://t.co/PJLdxy3hD9
.@ChuckGrassley - got your message loud and clear. We have fantastic people on the ground, got there long before #Harvey. So far, so good!
Closely monitoring #HurricaneHarvey from Camp David. We are leaving nothing to chance. City, State and Federal Govs. working great together!
Wonderful coordination between Federal, State and Local Governments in the Great State of Texas - TEAMWORK! Record setting rainfall.
Great coordination between agencies at all levels of government. Continuing rains and flash floods are being dealt with. Thousands rescued.
Many people are now saying that this is the worst storm/hurricane they have ever seen. Good news is that we have great talent on the ground.
I will be going to Texas as soon as that trip can be made without causing disruption. The focus must be life and safety.
Wow - Now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood! We have an all out effort going, and going well!
Going to a Cabinet Meeting (tele-conference) at 11:00 A.M. on #Harvey. Even experts have said they've never seen one like this!
HISTORIC rainfall in Houston, and all over Texas. Floods are unprecedented, and more rain coming. Spirit of the people is incredible.Thanks!
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"Providing employers with temporary leeway will allow Texans to focus on rebuilding their lives and not on pressuring potential employees to provide documents that may have been lost during Hurricane Harvey," Veasey said.

Representative Lamar Smith, a Republican congressman for south-central Texas, was critical of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) decision in 2005 and thinks it should not be repeated now. Harvey came ashore last Friday as the most powerful storm to hit Texas in 50 years, flooding Houston and driving tens of thousands from their homes before moving to Louisiana.

On Thursday, he said Harvey's destruction "does not mean federal immigration laws should be ignored."

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Arkema's flood-damaged Texas chemical plant
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Arkema's flood-damaged Texas chemical plant
A fire burns at the flooded plant of French chemical maker Arkema SA after Tropical Storm Harvey passed in Crosby, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
The flooded plant of French chemical maker Arkema SA, which produces organic peroxides, is seen after fires were reported at the facilty after Tropical Storm Harvey passed in Crosby, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Harris County Sheriff vehicles blocks the Crosby Freeway leading towards the Arkema Chemical Plant in Crosby, Texas on August 31, 2017. The plume of fumes from a flooded Texas chemical plant is 'incredibly dangerous,' the head of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said Thursday. Two explosions were reported overnight at the chemical plant in the town of Crosby and officials have ordered residents within 1.5 miles (three kilometers) of the facility to evacuate. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
The flooded plant of French chemical maker Arkema SA, which produces organic peroxides, is seen after fires were reported at the facilty after Tropical Storm Harvey passed in Crosby, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
A woman wearing a Center for Toxicology & Environmental Health LLC hat works in a rural residential area after a chemical plant operated by the Arkema Group had an explosion during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey August 31, 2017 in Crosby, Texas. A series of overnight explosions sent a plume of toxic smoke spewing from the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, a town of around 3,000 people some 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Houston. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A fire burns at the flooded plant of French chemical maker Arkema SA after Tropical Storm Harvey passed in Crosby, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Emergency vehicles wait at a roadblock after a chemical plant operated by the Arkema Group had an explosion during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 31, 2017 in Crosby, Texas. Local emergency officials reported two explosions Thursday at a flooded chemical plant in the Texas town of Crosby, its operators Arkema Inc said. 'At approximately 2:00 am CDT (0700 GMT), we were notified by the Harris County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) of two explosions and black smoke coming from the Arkema Inc plant in Crosby, Texas,' the company statement said. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
The flooded plant of French chemical maker Arkema SA, which produces organic peroxides, is seen after fires were reported at the facilty after Tropical Storm Harvey passed in Crosby, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
A Harris County Sheriff vehicle blocks access on the Crosby Dayton Road which leads towards the Arkema Chemical Plant in Crosby, Texas on August 31, 2017. The plume of fumes from a flooded Texas chemical plant is 'incredibly dangerous,' the head of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said Thursday. Two explosions were reported overnight at the chemical plant in the town of Crosby and officials have ordered residents within 1.5 miles (three kilometers) of the facility to evacuate. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A fire burns at the flooded plant of French chemical maker Arkema SA in Crosby, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
A police officer lays down a safety flare while blocking the road leading to the Arkema SA plant which was hit by floods caused Tropical Storm Harvey near Crosby, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
A fire burns at the flooded plant of French chemical maker Arkema SA after Tropical Storm Harvey passed in Crosby, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
CROSBY, TX - SEPTEMBER 01: Smoke is seen rising from the Arkema chemical manufacturing and storage facility that burst into flames after Hurricane Harvey's floodwaters knocked out the equipment used to cool the plant's volatile chemicals on September 1, 2017 in Crosby, Texas. Harvey, which made landfall north of Corpus Christi late Friday evening, is expected to dump upwards to 40 inches of rain in Texas over the next couple of days. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Emergency vehicles wait at a roadblock after a chemical plant operated by the Arkema Group had an explosion during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 31, 2017 in Crosby, Texas. Local emergency officials reported two explosions Thursday at a flooded chemical plant in the Texas town of Crosby, its operators Arkema Inc said. 'At approximately 2:00 am CDT (0700 GMT), we were notified by the Harris County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) of two explosions and black smoke coming from the Arkema Inc plant in Crosby, Texas,' the company statement said. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A firetruck waits at a roadblock after a chemical plant operated by the Arkema Group had an explosion during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 31, 2017 in Crosby, Texas. Local emergency officials reported two explosions Thursday at a flooded chemical plant in the Texas town of Crosby, its operators Arkema Inc said. 'At approximately 2:00 am CDT (0700 GMT), we were notified by the Harris County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) of two explosions and black smoke coming from the Arkema Inc plant in Crosby, Texas,' the company statement said. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A sheriff walks near a roadblock after a chemical plant operated by the Arkema Group had an explosion during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey August 31, 2017 in Crosby, Texas. Local emergency officials reported two explosions Thursday at a flooded chemical plant in the Texas town of Crosby, its operators Arkema Inc said. 'At approximately 2:00 am CDT (0700 GMT), we were notified by the Harris County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) of two explosions and black smoke coming from the Arkema Inc plant in Crosby, Texas,' the company statement said. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Trucks make their way through flood waters on a main road leading to the Arkema Inc. chemical plant that was in crisis during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 30, 2017 in Crosby, Texas. After pouring record rains on Texas, Tropical Storm Harvey made a second landfall Wednesday to strike Louisiana, a state that still bears deep scars from 2005's Hurricane Katrina. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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"Nor should regulations that require federal contractors to verify legal work authorization of their employees," he said in a statement to Reuters. "These policies were put in place to protect American workers and taxpayers."

USCIS referred questions on the decision to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the division under the DHS that enforces federal immigration policy.

ICE spokeswoman Dani Bennett declined to speculate about future policy changes, but said it was not ICE's intent to conduct immigration enforcement in areas affected by Harvey.

'NOT THE TIME TO GET PRECIOUS'

Waiving verification requirements after Katrina was aimed at citizens and legal residents who had lost documents in the storm, since employers must verify the identity of all new hires through documents, such as passports, permanent residence cards, or driver's licenses.

But several immigration attorneys said the DHS' 2005 decision was also a tacit acknowledgment that undocumented immigrants were needed to help the rebuilding.

The Pew Research Center estimated last year that 28 percent of Texas's construction workforce is undocumented, while other studies have put the number as high as 50 percent.

"In certain circumstances those are the people you desperately need to help you do things," said William J. Manning, an immigration attorney in New York. "This is not the time to get precious about their documentation."

In the days and weeks after Katrina, contractors from inside and outside New Orleans moved to rebuild and take advantage of government reconstruction funds. But the number of workers in construction and related industries in the New Orleans area plummeted just after the hurricane, according to a 2006 Brookings Institution study.

The DHS decision, and a separate decision by the Department of Labor to temporarily lift wage restrictions, were part of an effort by the Bush administration to address the labor shortage.

Some worry that the Trump administration's decision will slow down the post-Harvey rebuilding, because employers will struggle to meet the federal documentation requirements in the storm's aftermath.

"Damage is damage, and there are repairs that need to be done," said Jorge Lopez, an immigration attorney in Florida. "Local folks are trying to hire right away because even with their existing crew they're not going to have enough people to do all the work that needs to be done."

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; editing by Sue Horton and Grant McCool)

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