The researchers focused on construction because of its prominent role in the state's economy: the industry generates one out of every 20 dollars generated in Texas, which had 16 percent of the nation's new housing construction permits in 2011, the report found.
Phil Thoden, president and CEO of the Austin chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America, said his group supports immigration reform and said he is more optimistic that it will happen than he's been in more than a decade.
"In order to grow, you need to build, so we need a talented and available workforce," said Thoden, whose group represents roughly 300 local general contractors and subcontractors. "Immigration reform is key to the future growth of not only Austin, but all of Texas."
Thoden said he doesn't agree with all of the report's conclusions, adding that his group's members for the most part follow the law, give workers safety training and want to do the right thing for their business and their workers. "I get frustrated when the industry as a whole is painted in a black light," he said.
Carlos Arellano, a 19-year-old construction worker from Mexico, said it's harder to find good work without the proper documents. He and seven other workers, including his father Juan Cruz, said they went to the Workers Defense Project after an Austin subcontractor didn't pay them about $2,500 in wages for jobs they did in College Station and Austin.
"We can't speak out because we're not from here," Arellano said.
Patricia Zavala, the group's workplace justice coordinator, said the Austin contractor who hired the subcontractor paid six of the workers more than $1,500 last week and two others still hope to receive their money.
"We are here asking for an opportunity to have papers and be documented, and the same for our children so they can study," said Luis Rodriguez, a construction worker from Mexico who lost part of a finger in a workplace accident.