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

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.

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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.

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."

Cleanup efforts begin following Harvey

Cleanup efforts begin following Harvey

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FBN's Jeff Flock talks to volunteers helping with cleanup efforts in the Houston area following Harvey.

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.

"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."

"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.

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