After several recent reports that undocumented workers in Missouri were arrested but released without charges, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill pushed for answers from the nation's top immigration official in a hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today. Last week, in Farmington, MO, County Sheriff Dan Bullock reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials instructed him to release 13 of the 14 men he had found working illegally on a local construction site.
In response to this case, McCaskill called upon Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to explain why the sheriff was instructed to let undocumented workers return to their work site without punishment and what measures are being taken to crack down on business owners who knowingly hire undocumented workers. In a time of high unemployment, McCaskill reiterated that now, more than ever, it is important that employers are not cheating the system and paying undocumented workers lower wages under the table.
"In a county in Missouri - St. Francois County - we have over 11 percent unemployment and the local sheriff went out on a job site for a new hotel and picked up 13 or 14 illegal immigrants who were working on the job site," McCaskill said recounting the story. She continued "You can imagine what kind of furor this is causing in this community. One man was quoted in the local newspaper saying "You know I lost my job, and I'd love to have one of these jobs and it just doesn't seem fair that nothing happens.'"
Today, McCaskill also expressed frustration that no attempt was made to penalize the employer for hiring undocumented workers. McCaskill has repeatedly challenged both the Bush and Obama administrations to strengthen employer enforcement programs. She believes jobs are the magnet bringing people into this country and that stricter programs are the key to deterring illegal immigrants from entering the country and protecting the jobs of those who play by the rules.
"But what really worried me about it was that no one followed-up with the employer. Those guys went back to the site and picked up their tools. Well, they didn't pick up their tools because they thought they were going home. They picked up their tools because they were confident that they could go somewhere else, to another employer, and get hired on. That's what worries me - that we aren't even making an investigative attempt to go after the employer when we have a situation like this with a local sheriff," McCaskill said.
Secretary Napolitano reaffirmed the administration's commitment to increasing employer enforcement but highlighted some of the challenges of communications between the levels of law enforcement. McCaskill countered by saying if that is the case that the administration at least needs to do a better job of communicating its priorities to law enforcement officials at the local levels.
"There seems to be a disconnect of information being received on the ground and what you want the policies to be." McCaskill said. "What I think would be important for the community to see is that some type of investigation is going to happen immediately in terms of the employer."