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Mary Sanchez: Go after employers

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Sunday, April 7, 2013, at 12 a.m.

In Kansas City, area construction contractors are doing the happy dance.

And U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom created a new fan base.

His office is behind charges against a Spring Hill, Kan., firm accused of using undocumented workers to gain an unfair competitive edge and line the company owners’ pockets.

Grissom said he intended to form the case against Advantage Framing in the most cost-effective, efficient and humane way.

Mission accomplished.

“It just doesn’t make sense to go out and round up 30 to 40 undocumented workers and start them through deportation when you have an employer who within a week will go out and knowingly replace those folks with another 30 to 40 more undocumented people,” Grissom said.

“Knowingly” is key.

It’s one thing for an employer to be presented with fake documents or papers that don’t belong to the person, hire him at a fair wage and complete withholding requirements as an employer. The government gets its cut, to the tune of $15 billion each year in Social Security payments alone.

At least 55 percent of undocumented workers are paid this way, according to studies.

Grissom alleges this operation worked at a whole different conspiratorial level.

According to the indictment, a company owner discussed the creation of fake documents for workers and paid out wages in cash via crew chiefs to circumvent Social Security payments, workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance.

A call to Advantage wasn’t returned.

For years, all the federal government focused on was chasing around immigrants, targeting some for deportation.

Left undone was the far more laborious work of building paper trails to catch companies that scam everyone by underpaying such workers, evading the tax system and cheating those born in the U.S. out of competing for the work.

Grissom said that upon taking his position, he told regional immigration officials he didn’t favor raids but would focus on employers that undercut the market with illegal labor.

Advantage ran so many crews that some argue the company was able to decimate pricing in the local market.

One construction owner accused the firm of “destroying the market” with “slave labor.”

“I shouldn’t be denigrated because I’m a good, honest employer trying to pay my people a good wage so that they can make a nice living as craftsmen,” the Lenexa businessman said.

Like others who commented, he also had some sympathy for the workers, left to an ineffective immigration system that doesn’t react to employers’ needs, especially for seasonal labor.

“Bring them in and give them work visas,” he said. “Make these companies do it right and not cheat their workers.”

It’s a message Congress needs to heed.

Mary Sanchez is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.

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