It has taken years to gain traction but the widening U.S. crackdown on employment of illegal aliens at sensitive infrastructure sites finally is off and running. And so is another push by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to root out violent criminals in the U.S. illegally. Those initiatives are on top of a general one to choke off employment opportunities for illegals at all levels.

That kind of action is chilling for some people but long overdue. As we have said before, immigration reform starts and finishes with the rule of law (ENR 4/17 p. 60). And that can only be achieved by securing the borders and enforcing immigration and employment laws, even if they are flawed.

Construction industry firms can expect much more of this action as the public turns up the pressure on the federal government. Much of America is fed up with the fact that there are an estimated 11 million illegal aliens living in the U.S. and that, until now, there has seemed to be little concern on the federal level about the exponential growth.

The most important skirmish now going on is on Capitol Hill, where the House and Senate are trying to reconcile radically different views of immigration reform. The House wants a tougher enforcement approach. The Senate wants a guest worker program and a path to citizenship for many illegals.

The no-mans land between the dug-in forces is broad, talks are deadlocked and construction firms are right in the middle. They easily could be casualties from friendly fire unless given some reasonable protection. They have critical skill shortages, employ many immigrants and literally build America. That makes them a tempting target for an all-out enforcement assault.

We think that the Dept. of Homeland Security is on the right track with proposed regulations that clarify employer obligations. After the Social Security Administration or ICE notifies firms that there are problems with a worker’s W-2 or I-9 forms, firms must then make a prompt, clear, good-faith effort to get to the root of the problem. By doing so, they can avoid liability. This kind of clarity also should be included in reform legislation. Contractors can have hundreds of workers coming and going on many jobsites. Smaller contractors don’t have sophisticated human resource departments, if any. And forged documents, coupled with a web of lies can be pretty convincing.