Houston faces a flooding crisis of proportions that emergency response officials say they've never seen. The nation's fourth-largest city will spend months recovering and rebuilding. President Donald Trump will get a firsthand view of the devastation during a trip there on Tuesday.
As bad as the situation is right now, it promises to get even worse once floodwaters subside and hundreds of thousands return to find their soggy home interiors caked with putrid muck. Anyone in Texas who has experienced weather disasters knows that the recovery effort is one where immigrant labor plays an essential role.
Trump's visit will provide interesting contrasts. Last week, he threatened to shut down the government if funding for a border wall isn't included in the spending package that Congress must approve by Sept. 30. Trump's threat would mean the federal aid spigot for Houston could be turned off in the middle of the recovery effort. That would anger even hardline Texas Republicans.
Trump feels so strongly about his immigration crackdown that, just as Hurricane Harvey was making landfall last Friday, he pardoned former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio gained national infamy by defying federal court orders and rounding up Latinos simply because they looked like they might be undocumented migrants.
Trump also has threatened that if Congress doesn't back his immigration crackdown, he might remove deportation restrictions against "Dreamers," the undocumented youths who were brought to the United States as children.
Houston has the third-largest population of undocumented immigrants in the country, according to the Pew Research Center. It is now ranked as the nation's most diverse city. Latinos by far eclipse whites and blacks as the plurality population. In June, Houston city leaders voted to join a lawsuit that seeks to block a Texas law cracking down on "sanctuary cities" that harbor undocumented immigrants.
Go to any construction site in Houston and the language being spoken will be Spanish first and English second. The kinds of labor Houstonians will most need over the next few months will be roofers and drywall removal and installation workers. Ask any construction contractor — thousands will be flocking soon to Houston — how the recovery effort works and they'll recite a complicated formula that hinges entirely on the narrow reimbursement margins allowed by insurance companies.
To make it all work at prices that Houston homeowners can afford, cheap immigrant labor is a requirement. Even the conservative Texas Association of Business concedes as much, which is why its members are calling for comprehensive immigration reform, not a wall.
Houston is where Trump's Make America Great Again boasts slam up against hard economic reality. He can choose between an immigration crackdown or a more rapid recovery. But he can't have both.
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