O’FALLON, Mo. — While the debate rages over the lax security of the southern border — and Missouri’s attorney general and National Guard troops visit the Texas border — dozens of undocumented immigrants have been brought to the state to a condominium development site in St. Charles County.
After a tip from a local St. Charles County business owner, The Missouri Times coordinated with a source who wore a hidden camera and spoke with those working on the site.
The workers detailed how they had to work 11-12 hours per day, six days a week, and were paid cash at the end of the week without taxes deducted. The crew was largely made up of immigrants who came into the U.S. illegally via the porous Mexican border.
The Missouri Times is not naming the source or the workers to protect their identity.
The project is called Avenue 64 and is being built at the intersection of Highway 94 and Interstate 64 in St. Charles County — in plain view of the tens of thousands of cars that pass the intersection each day.
Videos taken from the job site depict the story of immigrants who are illegally smuggled into the country only to be taken advantage of by those who promised them a better life. The workers are moved sometimes without their consent to jobs further north and separated from their families who are typically left behind in Texas.
One worker confirmed they were based in Texas, but received more pay in Missouri. Below are some translated portions of the conversation highlighting the employment conditions the immigrants are subjected to.
Source: “Does it benefit you guys coming to work in a different state?”
Worker: “In Texas, work is worthless. It’s not worth it to work there.”
Source: “So it’s not worth it to work there. Very bad pay?”
Source: “Here, do they pay you pretty well? Or at least better than Texas?”
Source: “Do you guys receive any sort of benefits when you work here?”
Then they discussed the workers’ pay schedule.
Source: “I imagine you guys get paid by the day?”
Source: “Do you guys get cash or check, or do you get any taxes taken out?”
Worker: “No, there’s nothing taken out. They do pay us by the day.”
Source: “So you get paid at the end of each day or weekly?”
Source: “Roughly how much do you get paid per day?”
Worker: “Roughly $140 per day.”
Source: “In a 10-hour shift?”
Worker: “No, we work way more than 10 hours.”
One local businessman said he felt the workers on the job site looked afraid of anyone who would walk by. He spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
“Common sense would tell you that there were lots of illegal immigrants on this job site. However, I just thought the city of O’Fallon had to know that, but I didn’t think they would do anything about it because they wouldn’t be ‘woke’ if they actually did their job and enforced the law,” the source said.
In September, the source said one of the workers fell from a forklift device about four stories and landed on scaffolding.
“Before I could call 911, a police car was already on the way, but I could see probably two dozen of the workers jump into vans and scramble away before they arrived,” the source said. “I went over later when no one was around and took a photo of the scaffold. I don’t know what happened to that guy, but I never saw him around again.”
The source concluded, “Look, the city of O’Fallon had to know about this, but all they do is talk like a Republican. When it comes down to it, they are more woke than those people downtown,” the source said. “[St. Louis Mayor] Tishaura [Jones] may as well be the mayor of O’Fallon if we aren’t going to have laws, but that’s what we live in today. If I have a light out on an exit sign, they will give me a citation, but they can blatantly flaunt the law. I’m sick of the ‘wokeness’ out here, but let’s be real, no one will care.”
The Avenue 64 project by Watermark Residential, an affiliate of Thompson Thrift real estate company, is a luxury apartment complex slated to be completed in August 2022. It is expected to include more than 300 units housed in three four-story buildings. Units, which can range in price from $1,300-$1,900 will feature designer fixtures and gourmet kitchens, and residents will have access to a fitness center, pool, and dog park.
According to its website, Thompson Thrift has offices in Arizona, Indiana, and Texas and is “focused on upscale apartment home communities and luxury leased homes.”
A Watermark representative did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment.
Over the next few days, The Missouri Times will be asking what federal, state, county, and city officials actually do when a company blatantly flaunts violations of immigration law.
St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann said county police and the county’s Community Development Department director investigated after receiving a complaint. He said they found the workers were staying at nearby motels and have passed along information to federal immigration officials in St. Louis.
Ehlmann also said he’s reached out to Missouri Department of Labor Director Anna Hui to ensure the workers are receiving lawful wages.
Ehlmann compared the situation to one in 2006 with a development that was receiving subsidies from the Missouri Housing Development Commission.
“Since then, we have had few such incidents. The possibility that we may be seeing a repeat of those issues at this time, with all the problems at the border, is extremely disturbing, and the county asks that those who have the jurisdiction to investigate the matter do so thoroughly,” Ehlmann said.
We will continue to follow this story to bring to you what, if anything, elected officials do about a problem right here in Missouri — especially as Republican officials flood their social media with posts about their Texas concerns.
Cameron Gerber studied journalism at Lincoln University. Prior to Lincoln, he earned an associate’s degree from State Fair Community College. Cameron is a native of Eldon, Missouri.
Contact Cameron at firstname.lastname@example.org.