Stan Marek knows a thing or two about Houston. The long-time Republican is the CEO of the Marek Family of Companies, a group of construction businesses that stretch back nearly 80 years. “My grandparents built this business around developing a skilled labor force and working hard,” he says. Marek takes pride in his business’s ability to create jobs: a whopping 2,000. Marek has done everything in his power to make sure the immigrants he hires are all legal. But even the best of efforts, Marek says, can’t protect him or his employees from the broken immigration system.
Every ICE audit takes people that are paying taxes and dumps them into the underground economy.
“You can make a commitment to legality, but that doesn’t mean it’s legal,” he says. “You can buy a set of documents for $500 at the flea market.” (Marek points out that the vast majority of U.S. businesses don’t use E-Verify.) In the years following 9/11, raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents found that many of Marek’s employees—some who had been with the company 20 years—were working illegally. The employees were laid off, but not deported. “One ICE audit cost us about 100 workers,” Marek says. “Every ICE audit takes people that are paying taxes and dumps them into the underground economy, and they go and work for our competitors for cash. They’re not paying taxes, they get hurt, they wind up in the ER, and the taxpayers pick up the cost. It’s ridiculous.”
Marek is a Republican, but he does not support his party’s views on immigration. He’s seen the long-term value immigrants can have on a community and business. “I’ve got a superintendent that makes over $90,000 a year,” Marek says. “He’s been with me 22 years, came from Mexico, and started as a laborer. There are a lot of success stories like that at my company.”
His concerns surrounding immigration stretch far beyond business interests. “We’ve got an estimated 600,000 undocumented immigrants in Houston,” Marek says. “They don’t have drivers’ licenses, they don’t have healthcare, and their kids are struggling in school because mom and dad can’t go to parent-teacher meetings. It’s going to destroy our community.” He’s specifically worried about gang crime, which he says attracts young children in search of protection and an identity. “My son was a teacher at an inner-city charter school, and the kids would come in with such terrible stories,” Marek says. “They couldn’t report crime because they couldn’t go to the cops, so many would turn to gangs. We’ll all be living in gated communities with security guards soon, if we don’t do anything to solve the problem and stop driving immigrants underground.”
The solution, as Marek sees it, is simple. “Legal status. Just an ID and a way to pay taxes,” he says. “Give them a permit to work so they have legal status and aren’t scared, and the employers can feel confident in our hires.”