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Houston business owners caught in middle of immigration battle between Texas and president

25 Feb

As far as law firms are concerned, Houston business owners with immigrant employees should proceed under the assumption that President Barack Obama‘s latest immigration policy changes will touch ground later this year, despite efforts by Brownsville’s U.S. District Judge Andrew Henan to thwart implementation of those policies earlier this month.

As expected by Houston-based immigration experts and policy makers, the Obama administration filed a stay in the Brownsville court on Feb. 23 in a countermove to Henan’s injunction.

Whatever happens in the tug-of-war over immigration, immigration lawyers are counseling commercial clients to get their paperwork in order so they can be well positioned to apply for deferred action status on behalf of their employees as new policies are implemented later this year.

“I would call this a bump in the road. While disappointed, it’s not entirely unexpected,” said Charles Foster, managing partner at Foster LLP. “This creates an uncertainty and it is going to have to be resolved one way or the other.”

Another reason to prepare for Obama’s policies to go forward is last week’s announcement from Houston Mayor Annise Parker that the city has officially launched its new coalition for immigration policy implementation, starting with a Web portal.

The impact of the legislation is primarily on Houston’s workforce and immigrant business owners. The legislation calls for a permit for undocumented Americans who meet certain criteria to work legally in the U.S. for three years under the larger expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the creation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program.

More than 200,000 undocumented immigrants in the Houston region will be eligible for legal status through the new programs, according to the city of Houston’s Department of Neighborhoods division.

“For legal contractors, it’s going to be a tremendous boom because now we have access to labor that we haven’t been able to hire,” Stan Marek, CEO of Houston-based Marek Brothers Company Inc. and longtime proponent of immigration reform, told the Houston Business Journal in November.

Other benefactors of the policies are Houston’s immigrant business owners.

“I do think (the injunction, if it sticks) shoots a little bit of our economy in the foot. We just heard that the construction industry is not going to slow down like oil and gas will,” said Kathryn Karam, president of Houston-based law firm Kathryn Karam PC.

As of 2010, roughly 31 percent of Houston business owners were foreign-born, according to the American Immigration Council. It bears mentioning however that the percentage does not distinguish between foreign-born business owners that are residing here legally or illegally, but Karam said that there are more undocumented business owners in Houston than the public realizes.