Workforce: Immigrants Play Key Role In Utility Construction

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | March 2009 Vol. 64 No. 3

No matter what construction market an organization serves, a continuing challenge is to be sure that foreign born employees and applicants being considered for jobs are in the country legally. As construction has become more dependent on foreign born labor, contractors, public works agencies and suppliers have found that this is not an easy task, and employing illegal alien workers can result in serious consequences, including substantial fines and even jail time. Healy points out that Arizona has passed a law that would result in the forfeiture of a company's license to do business in that state upon a second violation of the prohibition on hiring unauthorized workers.

In the past, many have considered the green card as proof of a bearer's legal status. However, counterfeit green cards are a growing problem, and Healy says that it is not possible to "verify" that an applicant is "legal" to work under current laws.

"The U.S.," says Healy, "does not have a national identity card that is fraud proof, that is one which incorporates biometrics such as a fingerprint or some other evidence that the person presenting the document is the person to whom it was issued."

To reduce the risk of violating immigration laws, what does an organization need to consider when hiring foreign workers? Healy provided several recommendations.

Understand the new enforcement environment

“Enforcement is not going to change substantially under the Obama administration, in my opinion. Work site enforcement by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency focuses heavily on companies in ‘critical infrastructure’ industries – and I would consider utility system construction and maintenance to be in this group.