By now, you've probably read the story about the six illegal immigrants that were found at the Veterans Administration Medical Center project in Orlando. At first, news reports indicated that hiring practices at the $600-million-plus project were being investigated. Next thing you know, some illegal workers were found. If the story ended there, it'd be just another sad but all-too-familiar story that we've all heard before.

But, of course, if you've read the latest, it didn't end there. Here's the rub: These illegal workers were found hidden in a portion of the emerging facility's roof, behind some scaffolding, in a place where they couldn't get out without someone else's help.

Let that sink in. Wow.

According to their report, police visited the site--after an initial visit earlier the same day--and directed Salvador Hernandez to take them to the hidden illegals that were on site, according to their anonymous tipster. The report states Hernandez was able to find the workers. The report continues:

"The area where the subjects were hidden was approximately 30 ft long by 10 ft wide and 18 inches in depth. Additionally, given the manner in which the subjects were hidden, someone would have had to (have) assisted in concealing them, due to the fact the scaffolding had to be moved from the outside, utilizing a forklift. This also meant the subjects were unable to escape their hiding spots without being assisted from the outside, again utilizing a forklift."

General contractor Brasfield & Gorrie, which holds several contracts, including one for approximately $265 million covering the medical center's new tower, released the following statement:

"Brasfield & Gorrie confirms that on February 9, representatives of several government agencies arrived at the Veterans Administration Medical City jobsite in Orlando, Fla. The new VA Medical Center currently has over 550 employees employed by numerous contractors and subcontractors. The authorities identified individuals who are suspected to have used deficient documentation to secure their employment.  We are working with the agencies to assist with the investigation. Brasfield & Gorrie has always been and continues to be fully committed to complying with federal, state and local laws. Brasfield & Gorrie utilizes the federal E-verify system, in addition to the I-9 Employment Verification process to confirm work eligibility of all its workers on this site. In addition, we also require that all contractors and subcontractors do the same for their employees as well. Brasfield & Gorrie is taking this matter very seriously and is conducting its own investigation."

Again, you can read our full story here. Of course, it's too early to assign particular, individual blame for this incident. But a few issues definitely stick out.

Someone--probably multiple on-site personnel--knew these workers were illegal. And obviously someone made a deliberate--and incredibly stupid and dangerous--attempt to hide these workers and subvert federal immigration laws. Further, the report indicates they could have been hidden in this space for more than an hour, without any ability to exit on their own, which sort of/kind of highlights a minor safety issue--i.e., a callous disregard for the well-being of these workers, despite their status.

Then there are these questions: Are contractors hiding behind the E-Verify system? Who would be stupid enough to hire insufficiently documented workers on a federal construction site? With an industry unemployment rate of roughly 20%, do contractors really need to take the risk of hiring illegal workers? Or, are the aggressive bids of today actually encouraging firms to continue their shady employment practices? 

In short, the dramatic details of this latest immigration incident seem to expose the attitude that too many firms in the industry take in their apparent attempts to game the system.

Who's to blame? Again, it's too early to tell. But I think we may have an idea.

Stay tuned; there's surely more to come. For now, though, what are your thoughts? Let us hear you.

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