Immigration Policies Lead to Border Town Labor Shortages

Donald Trump’s campaign for President was built on making big promises to voters: chief among them to build a wall along the southern border of the U.S. Nearly three years later, Congress has yet to approve the $25 billion in funding the President requested for the project.

In fact, Congress has yet to provide a dime for creating new barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, and the office of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is well behind on its goal of raising their total staff count to 20,000, despite generous funding included in a bill signed into law last March for hiring more border patrol agents.

If funding is ultimately approved, we’ll expect to see a major leap in the number of construction and law enforcement jobs available in major metros along the Mexico border. Already ZipRecruiter data suggests new jobs are being created as a byproduct of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies, though not necessarily in the industries one would expect.

Instead of construction or law enforcement jobs cropping up, new jobs are being created by firms banking on the fact that groundbreaking on the wall is nigh and local governments scrambling to manage the growing amount of work in ICE detention centers.

Civil Engineers Wanted on the Border

Will President Trump succeed in extending the border wall by hundreds of miles during his term in office? Firms in San Diego, CA and Phoenix, AZ are betting on it. A spike in demand for Civil Engineers—the professionals required to plan large-scale infrastructure projects prior to actually breaking ground—indicates firms in border cities are hopeful more wall funding is on the way.

Prior to April of this year, New York and Los Angeles had the most Civil Engineering jobs on offer out of the 350-plus metro areas in the country—unsurprising considering the number of job openings in any field, especially in government and infrastructure, is typically correlated to population size. That was until President Trump signed a $1.3 trillion spending bill in late March, which included billions of dollars to improve already-existing portions of border fencing.

Now the San Diego and Phoenix metros, which are each less than a quarter the size of New York, boast 60% more Civil Engineer job openings. Civil Engineering jobs posted to ZipRecruiter in Phoenix and San Diego have tripled since July of last year, and from May through July 2018, both metropolitan areas have had the greatest number of Civil Engineering job openings in the U.S. In July, there were four Civil Engineering openings for every applicant in Phoenix and six for every applicant in San Diego.

Social Workers in Short Supply

Stricter enforcement of existing immigration policy has also led to higher numbers of immigrant detainees being held in border towns. As a result, demand for Social Service Professionals has spiked and the labor supply has dwindled in cities like Houston, which is home to six of the 32 licensed detention facilities in Texas.

In January 2018, there were far more applicants applying for Social Services jobs than there were openings. By July (three months after the zero tolerance immigration policy was announced) Social Services job openings in Houston had increased 160% and there were 1.4 job openings for every applicant.

The Social Worker shortage has swept across the entire state of Texas, where the vast majority of detention centers are located. In Dallas, there were two jobs for every applicant in July, and in San Antonio there were an astounding 26 social service job openings for each applicant.

ZipRecruiter data makes it clear: Civil Engineers and Social Workers are in high demand and short supply in border towns, and the Administration can’t find enough Border Patrol Agents to reach its hiring goals. These hiring challenges show that securing the all-important funding for building a border wall is just the first half of the equation. Finding the labor power to push the project forward may prove to be an even more challenging task.

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Jeffery Marino is a Los Angeles-based writer who previously covered emerging job market trends using proprietary ZipRecruiter data.

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