Professional Development: Illegal Immigration Is An FM Issue

By Neville W. Cramer
Published in the March 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Without a doubt, one of the most polarizing and controversial domestic issues facing this nation is illegal immigration. Americans now realize the enormity of the problem, but only time will tell if the country’s politicians have the will to do what is right for the country.

Most Americans equate illegal aliens with jobs related to agriculture, landscaping, and restaurant work. The vast majority of these migrants work at the low end of the wage scale.

While $8.50 an hour may not seem like much to an American, it is an enormous amount of money to an El Salvadoran who was earning $1 a day before being smuggled across the Mexican border into the U.S.

While there are a multitude of economic and social issues surrounding the millions of illegal aliens currently in the U.S., two issues should be of specific concern to facility managers (fms). The first is security, and the second is comprehensive immigration reform. Since the latter is currently hung up in Congress, this article will examine security first.

Federal, state, and municipal law enforcement agencies are well aware that some of the largest employers of illegal aliens are directly and peripherally involved in building services and maintenance. Whether it is the cleaning crews, the janitors, the trash removal workers, or the security guards, illegal immigrants make up a significant portion of the workforce.

Although many of these workers are simply looking for a better way of life, there is a growing number involved in criminal activities. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policies relating to immigration status may have worked in the past, but eventually they will become unacceptable. Fms should realize they will soon be at a cross road regarding these issues, and choosing the wrong direction could be devastating to their organizations.

Scottsdale, AZ is proud to be known as “America’s Most Livable City.” Unfortunately, two years ago, the Scottsdale Unified School District was faced with a tragedy that left parents wondering if they should move away or simply stop sending their children to public school.

On August 25, 2006, Roberto Lemus-Retana, an illegal alien from Mexico, sexually assaulted a 14-year-old female student as she returned to her high school to retrieve some books from her locker. The perpetrator was a school janitor employed by a third party janitorial service provider.

In the interest of saving money, Scottsdale never verified whether the service provider was conducting proper fingerprint, employment, and background checks required of permanent employees of the school district. Had these checks been conducted and the results reviewed by officials, there is little likelihood Lemus-Retana would have been permitted to work in the school. (He was subsequently convicted of six counts relating to the assault.)

The ramifications of this case are far reaching. Considering the damage done to the victim, the resulting lawsuit will likely be for a huge sum. The service provider was also threatened with termination of its contract and will likely be the target of an investigation into its hiring practices.

This example is just one of many incidents where illegal immigrant workers have been given unfettered access to facilities and subsequentlycommitted serious crimes at these locations. But in contrast, most facility related criminal activity is non-violent. It usually involves financial or property crimes and is often not reported to law enforcement.

For instance, organized criminals from West Africa (Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, etc.) are now firmly entrenched nationwide in the security guard business. They are usually educated, well mannered men and women who are willing to work weekends and midnight shifts.

Unfortunately, what is not widely known is that “while guarding the henhouse,” many of these contracted security workers are suspected of stealing employee and customer identity data and company proprietary information. In some instances, these guards are using multiple fraudulent identities themselves, making it almost impossible for law enforcement to catch up with them. Fms should be aware of these emerging trends and, along with law enforcement and security professionals, take whatever steps are necessary to mitigate their risks.

Most employers who hire illegal aliens—including fms—are well aware of the issues. The majority will admit privately that they and/or their contractors probably employ foreign workers who do not have permission to work in the U.S. They complain that the U.S.government requires them to complete the Employment EligibilityVerification Form (I-9), yet there is no mandatory and reliable system to verify work eligibility documents and Social Security numbers.

While some businesses would like to cooperate with the government, they feel they cannot compete against others that knowingly use illegal immigrant labor—especially since immigration enforcement in the interior is virtually non-existent. Lastly, some employers feel victimized by the shortage of low skilled legal workers willing to do the so-called “jobs Americans won’t do.”

Congress and the next President are most assuredly going to enact some form of comprehensive immigration reform.Powerful lobbying groups and Congressional supporters of an amnesty for the millions of illegal immigrants were soundly defeated during recent reform negotiations.

If 2007 is any indication of the future, Congress will be forced to secure U.S. borders and implement amandatory employment eligibility verification system before an amnesty is even considered. If this happens, fms who employ illegal immigrant laborers might be facing a nightmare of their own.

In certain parts of the country, there is a possibility that many illegal aliens will not risk deportation. They will simply return to their native countries, leaving an employment vacuum in their wake. Despite all the proclamations of America’s liberal and conservative think tanks, no one really knows what impact this will have on the country’s workforce and economy.

On the other hand, millionsof illegal aliens will no doubt test the resolve of the U.S.government—just as they did when they first became illegal aliens. Many will remain in this country in hopes of an amnesty, keep their jobs,and (along with their employers) take the risk of not getting caught.

Instead of waiting for the inevitable, the prudent manager should begin to develop contingency plans for future comprehensive immigration reform now. First, using professional assistance (human resource specialists,immigration enforcement consultants, etc.) and existing employment records, managers should try to determine which employees might not be legally allowed to work in this country. If a significant number seem to be at risk, employers should investigate alternative sources of manpower in the event these employees decide to leave the country.

On the other hand, employers should also keep an eye out for any legalization programs that might become law. If there is some sort of amnesty or guest worker program, employers might consider establishing a fund to assist their eligible employees with the fees and fines that will no doubt accompany the application process.

In the last 30 years, proponents of controlling illegal immigration have never had as much visibility as they have today, and Americans are now demanding much tougher immigration enforcement. Fms and security personnel must understand these issues and realize there are growing legal, economic,and professional risks involved in employing illegal aliens.


Cramer is the author of Immigration Chaos—Solutions To An American Crisis. In November 2002, he retired as one of the most experienced Special Agents in the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), and he now heads his own consulting firm, Immigration Enforcement Solutions, LLC in Scottsdale, AZ. For more information on his company, visit