- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 12, 2005

Contractors working in the Gulf Coast region say they are actively looking for local workers, but some acknowledge they are turning to day-laborer programs, which often include illegal aliens.

“We are primarily working through a large number of subcontractors and being proactive in achieving local hiring. And, yes, they do access day-laborer type of forces whenever possible,” said Chris Sammons, spokesman for the Shaw Group Inc.

The Baton Rouge, La., engineering and construction firm, a prime contractor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has worked with 150 subcontractors to provide a range of services, including roof repairs, temporary housing and rebuilding assessments in hurricane-ravaged parts of Louisiana.

“I think you’ll see more of that,” Mr. Sammons said of the day laborers. He did not give any details about the employment practices used by Shaw’s subcontractors.

Immigration-reform advocates are concerned contractors in the Gulf Coast are passing over local workers to hire cheaper, illegal aliens to fill the employee shortages in the region.

“Employers should be checking [employees’] backgrounds but they really don’t. People are looking the other way,” said Peter Kunz, spokesman for Minuteman Civil Defense Corps Inc., a Tombstone, Ariz., border-patrol watchdog group.

The group has received “numerous” requests in the past few months to set up day-laborer monitoring programs in New Orleans and other affected cities, Mr. Kunz said.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is conducting investigations into the citizenship status of workers in the Gulf Coast, said spokesman Dean Boyd.

In recent weeks, the federal agency, with the Defense Department and other law-enforcement agencies, apprehended several illegal aliens who were hired by unidentified contractors for hurricane-recovery work, Mr. Boyd said, declining to give further details.

BE&K; Inc., a Birmingham, Ala., engineering company and subcontractor for Halliburton Co. and other prime contractors, released two of the 289 employees it hired for work in the New Orleans area last month to the custody of ICE agents.

Spokeswoman Susan Wasley said a federal investigation showed the two had “falsified statements on their employment applications.” Ms. Wasley said she did not know whether it was an immigration problem.

“We continue to make a concerted effort to hire locally” for current and future disaster-relief projects in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida, she said.

Doug Buster, owner and president of a Selma, Ala., contractor, said the small number of day laborers he hired for temporary jobs appeared to be local residents, but he was not positive.

His company, Buster Digital, is winterizing the water lines for 2,000 trailer homes, which are housing hurricane evacuees in 28 public and private parks throughout Alabama.

“What we’ve tried to do is find people who are displaced, who have lost everything, and give them a chance to pick up some extra money and work with us temporarily,” he said.

Other contractors have steered clear of hiring workers on the spot.

“I’d rather hire local people through an unemployment services company,” said William Hamblin, office manager for D&D; Emergency Services LLC, a Dalton, Ga., subcontractor that has hired 60 workers for its hurricane-related work in Alabama.

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