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The politics and economics behind the most controversial Super Bowl ad

The politics and economics behind the most controversial Super Bowl ad
84 Lumber's Super Bowl spot features a border-crossing journey with an ending that Fox deemed too political to air. (84 Lumber)

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the controversial Super Bowl TV advertisement that showed an immigrant family encountering a border wall is that the company behind it denies it was about immigration at all.

But that company, 84 Lumber, and its customers have a strong interest in how the new Trump administration and Congress address immigration.

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Fox rejected the original commercial, according to Brunner, the agency that developed the spot. The company and its agency provided a new version that didn't show the family reaching the border, and invited viewers to the company's website to "see the conclusion."

The version available on Journey84.com shows construction workers building a door, and the mother and daughter ultimately discovering the door at the border and walking through it. The site noted the video "Contains Content Deemed Too Controversial for TV."

In the first minute after the spot aired, 300,000 people tried to access the website, which rendered it temporarily unavailable for many visitors, the company said.

84 Lumber provides building materials to developers, but also farms out subcontractors, who do construction work for those home builders.

The privately held company has 250 locations across the country and plans on opening 20 more in 2017, as the housing market continues to flourish.

84 Lumber is based in Eighty Four, Pa., in a county that went solidly for Trump in the election. People who listed the company as their employer donated $58,148  to Republican candidates and committees in 2016, and have donated more to Republicans than Democrats  in every election since 1990, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Amy Smiley, the director of marketing at 84 Lumber, said the spot was meant to give people — especially millennials — a sense of the company's "values," and potentially serve as a recruitment tool.

"The message isn't about immigration, it's about the characteristics of who we are looking to hire" — resilient and hardworking people, Smiley said.

"We aren't condoning illegal immigration, everyone that works for us has proper documentation and has to immigrate to the country legally," she said.

That said, construction in America, especially in Western and Southern states, is heavily dependent on immigrants.

About 23% of U.S. construction workers are immigrants, and in 2008 an estimated 17% of them were in the country illegally, according to a 2013 report by the nonprofit Center for Construction Research and Training. A third of all construction and extraction workers are Latino, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Immigrants make up more than a third of all painters, roofers, brick masons, and carpet and floor installers in the country, according to the National Assn. of Home Builders.

A President Obama-led crackdown on illegal immigration and a booming Mexican economy has starved the industry of labor for the last decade.

Construction took a hit during the housing crisis — 2 million construction jobs disappeared between 2007 and 2010. But now, as the residential housing market revs up, builders are finding that many of the people who left aren't coming back.

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A chunk of those lost workers were from Mexico. Since 2007, the construction sector has lost 570,000 workers who were born in Mexico, according to a 2015 report by John Burns Real Estate Consulting Inc. Employers in building trades, looking for carpenters, electricians and concrete workers, have said they are having trouble hiring, even though they've raised wages in recent years.

Trump's promise to deport the 11 million or so immigrants living in the U.S. illegally may directly hit builders by removing a swath of their workers.

The wall itself, and extra enforcement at the border, may also make it less likely that the hundreds of thousands of who left during the recession will ever return to their American employers.

Pressuring employers to hire domestically and boost pay is, of course, exactly what some want from a restrictive immigration policy.

"That will affect the residential home building market, workers will become increasingly scarce and there will be pressure to raise wages. The whole industry would have to adjust," said Peter Philips, an economist at the University of Utah who specializes in construction labor.

"There's going to be a good deal of sympathy among homebuilders and those who supply homebuilders with a pro-immigrant as opposed to anti-immigrant stance."

Follow me @NatalieKitro on Twitter

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