Restaurant and construction industries would get hit the hardest if DACA expires

  • The restaurant and construction industries would be hardest hit by the expiration of DACA, which gives protected status to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.
  • Nearly 19 percent of working DACA recipients hold jobs in food service, according to an analysis by the advocacy group New American Economy.
  • AT&T pledged to cover up to $50,000 each in legal fees for workers whose status has expired and are facing deportation.
A contractor moves roofing material on a home under construction at the Toll Brothers Cantera at Gale Ranch housing development in San Ramon, Calif.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A contractor moves roofing material on a home under construction at the Toll Brothers Cantera at Gale Ranch housing development in San Ramon, Calif.

The stalemate in Washington over an immigration deal could rattle the labor force in key sectors of the economy, prompting several big-name companies to provide legal support to affected employees.

The restaurant and construction industries would be hardest hit by the expiration of the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which provides protected status to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. It covers about 700,000 immigrants, although roughly double that number are estimated to be eligible for the program.

Nearly 19 percent of working DACA recipients hold jobs in food service, according to an analysis by the advocacy group New American Economy. The construction sector employs another 10 percent. Together, they account for about 240,000 people.

Other industries with significant numbers of immigrants eligible for DACA are health care and landscaping, as well academia, which each employ about 2 percent of workers.

"DACA makes business sense because it brings young, well-educated talent out of the shadows and into the mainstream workforce," said Jeremy Robbins, executive director of New American Economy.

In addition, several companies have offered legal assistance to employees attempting to navigate an uncertain period. The Trump administration began winding down DACA in October, and the program is slated to expire March 5. However, a California court issued an injunction last week halting that process.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Tuesday that her department is complying with that order, although the Justice Department announced later in the day that it will appeal the injunction directly to the Supreme Court.

"It defies both law and common sense for DACA — an entirely discretionary non-enforcement policy that was implemented unilaterally by the last administration after Congress rejected similar legislative proposals and courts invalidated the similar DAPA policy — to somehow be mandated nationwide by a single district court in San Francisco," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

AT&T has created an internal website to address employee questions. It is also providing legal aid up to $400 to evaluate affected workers' status and alternative paths to staying in the United States, according to an internal Jan. 10 memo provided to CNBC. The company also pledged to cover up to $50,000 each in legal fees for workers whose status has expired and are facing deportation.

"We're standing with you through this process," the memo reads. "Thank you for all you do for AT&T."

Microsoft has also publicly promised financial aid to the 45 DACA recipients working at the company. Microsoft has said it will provide and pay for legal counsel for any employees who lose protected status and face deportation, calling the program an "economic imperative and humanitarian necessity."

"At Microsoft, we value every one of our employees and it pains us to know that many of our coworkers are experiencing great frustration and anxiety," the company's chief legal counsel, Brad Smith, wrote in a blog post last week. "Like so many others, immigration has played a vital role in our company's success."

New American Economy estimates that more than 70 percent of the 25 largest companies in the U.S. employ DACA recipients and that DACA recipients contribute about $3 billion in tax revenue. Last week, industry groups representing chain restaurants, retail stores and construction companies joined an open letter signed by more than 100 CEOs warning of an "impending crisis" if lawmakers do not act soon.

"We are thankful for the generations of immigrant families who've brought the best of their traditions and cultures to our family table and provide a vital role in the restaurant industry," Shannon Meade, director of labor and workforce policy at the National Restaurant Association, said in a separate statement to CNBC. "As the country's second-largest private sector employer, we support strong border security and a permanent fix for the DACA program, and urge the Administration and Congress to work on a bipartisan effort to address these issues."

Businesses had been hoping for a solution by the end of this week to allow time to implement any changes. But those talks have fallen apart, however, amid tension between both parties and the White House over allegations that President Donald Trump used incendiary and vulgar language to describe immigrants from Africa and other countries.

During a public conversation with a DACA recipient on Tuesday, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, said that a compromise was unlikely by Friday.

"Not this week, no," he told her. "But it will soon, before the deadline."

— NBC News contributed to this report.

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