Who's Manning the Shovels?

By W.D. Reasoner on March 27, 2012

The current dysfunctional state of our nation's immigration processes, and the large number of illegal aliens present in the United States, is a matter of interest and deep concern to me. (You're probably thinking to yourself, "Well, duh, if it weren't, you wouldn't be writing for the Center for Immigration Studies." Fair point.)

Anyway, because of my concern — one, I add, that should be shared by all Americans since it has a fundamental impact on the future of our country — I routinely scan the papers, surf the Internet, and check the blogosphere to find out what's happening and what's being said about that arcane and messy little subject.

Doing so, I came upon an article in the Orlando Sentinel that, I think, does a pretty good job of revealing the many currents, cross-currents, and eddies that muddy the waters of immigration politics in the country. According to the article, despite the Florida legislature having failed to pass a bill requiring all employers in the state to use E-Verify -- a Department of Homeland Security web-based program that determines if potential employees are authorized to work in the United States -- two counties in the state stepped into the vacuum: both Orange (one of the counties that comprises the greater metro Orlando area) and Lake (a suburban-rural county north of Orange-Orlando) have enacted ordinances requiring contractors bidding for county jobs to use E-Verify and to state in writing that they are doing so as a part of the bid process.

This dichotomy between the state's inaction and the decision to go forward by these two counties is interesting on many levels. Although one thinks of Republicans generally as more immigration enforcement-minded than Democrats, that isn't always a given. The Florida legislature is solidly Republican, but it is also heavily pro-big business, which sometimes trumps notions of keeping jobs for authorized workers in favor of the bottom line: maximizing profits, even at the expense of unemployed Americans. Florida's unemployment rate has been riding above 9.5 percent for many months now — significantly higher than the national average — and is still shedding jobs by the thousands.

Lake is also a solidly Republican county, both in terms of the number of registered voters countywide, and by the party affiliation of their elected representatives on the County Commission. But Lake has been hit exceedingly hard economically in recent years. Much of its growth was fueled by housing construction of suburban and exurban bedroom communities surrounding metropolitan Orlando; that growth has dried up, and many construction workers now find themselves scrambling to make a living, sometimes facing foreclosure of their own homes. Lake has a vested interest in ensuring that what little construction work remains in the county goes to U.S. citizens or authorized workers.

Orange, by contrast, is more centrist. For example, its County Commission is headed by a mayor who described herself as "nonpartisan" during her election campaign. But Orange, too, has experienced hard times and an economic downturn in recent years, and many of those county residents who can find jobs are working for minimum wage, or are having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. So, despite the apparent political differences between the two counties, they share a common interest in attempting to ensure that jobs are preserved for those persons legally entitled to work in the United States, by mandating use of E-Verify when handing out county funds.

The Sentinel article quotes Mark Wylie, chief executive officer and president of the Central Florida chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors organization, as saying the focus should be on all businesses, not just contractors: "If we're going to focus on E-Verify, let's focus on E-Verify for everyone, not just in the construction industry." It's hard to argue with Mr. Wylie on a philosophical level, but let's face it — from a practical perspective, much (probably most) of the money disbursed by these counties will involve construction projects, and it makes sense to focus on that fact, particularly since construction has traditionally been an industry known to make substantial use of illegal aliens among their work crews.

This brings up an important point. To the extent that they are contracting out at all, many state and local governments are frequently issuing those contracts for upkeep of roads, bridges, highways, mass transit, parks, etc. And much of the money they are using has originally come from the federal government as a part of its emphasis on finding and underwriting "shovel-ready" projects throughout the nation that can repair, maintain, or expand key pieces of the critical infrastructure, while at the same time putting the unemployed or underemployed to work.

Yet these funds come without any immigration compliance strings attached. The federal government requires its own contractors to use E-Verify; why should they not go a step further and insist that state, county, or municipal governments who receive federal tax dollars do the same in order to be certain that the end-recipients of that money — workers receiving their paychecks from contractors hired by those governments — are legally entitled to work in the United States? But they don't. It's just one more little example of the low regard in which immigration enforcement and compliance is held by this administration.

So the next time you drive by a construction crew working on roads, bridges, or buildings in your community, ask yourself: Who's manning the shovels?

Topics: E-Verify