As a businessman and humanitarian, John Kafka sees a dire need for immigration reform. As CEO of Chamberlin Roofing & Waterproofing, a Houston-based company with 700 employees, he struggles to find and maintain a dedicated, legal workforce. As board chair of Catholic Charities in Houston, he has watched immigrants and refugees struggle their way out of poverty. “People come here to improve their lives by getting work,” Kafka says. “We need to let them out of the shadows. Because they can’t do it on their own.”
Kafka has long fought for immigration reform. In 2006, he co-founded an organization called Texans for Sensible Immigration Policy. “We came up with a platform and said we ought to be able to identify people, let them come forward and, if they don’t have a criminal record, let them work, get them to pay taxes, and then we can begin to look for the bad guys,” Kafka says. Organization members spent years speaking to senators and congressmen—“anyone that would listen”— but the experience was difficult.
“Politicians want to retain power, and this is a highly emotional issue,” he says. “Their constituents think immigrants have taken their jobs, but they don’t understand that the Texas economy would collapse if the immigrants left. You wouldn’t be able to get a home built.”
People just don’t want to do this type of [roofing] work. Young people aren’t entering the field.
Chamberlin uses E-Verify to confirm that all workers are legal. The process helps protect the company and its employees, but it also makes finding a legal workforce challenging. “We’ve been struggling to find people to come into our industry for years,” Kafka says, adding that recruiting American workers is a fruitless effort. “People just don’t want to do this type of work. Young people aren’t entering the field. We go to high schools, try to recruit them, and it’s just not a good situation.”
Though Kafka supports reform, he wants strict rules when it comes to granting citizenship. “I’m basically not in favor of a road to legalization unless it is a stringent road,” he says. “I don’t think people should come here illegally and then just get on a path to citizenship. But I’m not opposed to people coming here, being identified, and working. And then, eventually, there should be a path to American citizenship.”