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Who is in charge? Labor department points to other agencies as responsible for illegal immigrant labor

  

Rarely does a Missouri Republican rally pass without calls for an end to illegal immigration. However, with the uncovering of dozens of undocumented immigrants at work on a construction project in St. Charles County, it seems to be hard to find a Missouri Republican to actually do anything about it. 

On Sunday’s episode of “This Week in Missouri Politics,” Attorney General Eric Schmitt was asked who Missourians should call if they see flagrant violations of illegal immigrants working in their communities. His response? The Department of Labor. 

“If there are referrals to our office, we’re always going to take action from any agency that’s credible,” Schmitt said. “Taking on the problem of illegal immigration is important. … Every state is a border state now.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Labor said immigration matters were left up to federal agencies. (PROVIDED/OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR)

The Missouri Times pursued answers regarding a condominium construction site employing undocumented immigrants who work long hours every day and are paid in cash. After attempting to visit Labor Director Anna Hui for answers, we sent an inquiry to a Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DOLIR) spokesperson with a series of questions on the department’s role in an investigation and whose jurisdiction the situation fell under.

When asked how many complaints the department had received since Gov. Mike Parson took office, the answer was zero. That number could be because of the incredibly cumbersome process it takes to file a complaint or pessimism about what will happen once the complaint is filed. 

As one St. Charles County business owner told The Missouri Times last month, “They are too woke to actually ever do anything.”

The spokesperson said immigration matters were left up to federal agencies — the Department of Homeland Security, the federal Department of Labor, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The spokesperson added the department received no complaints of undocumented workers this year. 

Unemployment insurance and cash payments, however, were within DOLIR’s jurisdiction, the spokesperson said. 

“If the department becomes aware of an issue — through a referral, tip, or an unemployment claim by a worker whose employer has not been paying unemployment tax — the Division of Employment Security (DES) will investigate,” the spokesperson said. “If DES finds that the employer should have paid unemployment tax on the employee, those wages will be added to the employer’s account and the employer will be billed for taxes due.”

“Regardless of immigration status, DES will examine the relationship between the employer and employee to determine whether unemployment tax should have been paid.”

Reports are investigated by DOLIR’s Workers’ Compensation Fraud and Noncompliance Unit and handed over to the Attorney General’s Office if necessary, according to the spokesperson.  

Any entity that employs workers could be liable for workers’ compensation. 

While employers with more than five workers in most industries are required to carry benefits, construction companies are required to provide benefits if they employ even a single worker. Undocumented immigrants are eligible for benefits only if the employer was aware of their status, the spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson said there were three divisions that handle tips on fraud or violations of labor standards. 

After a tip from a local St. Charles County business, 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. 

In September, the source said one of the workers fell from a forklift device about four stories and landed on scaffolding. 

“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. 

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.