Illegal immigrants discovered at Howe Hall

Kati Jividen

Four illegal immigrants from Progressive Construction were apprehended Thursday at the construction site by Howe Hall after they reportedly bragged to several people about working without green cards, according to immigration officials.

Gerald Noland, Immigration and Naturalization Service supervisory special agent, said agents apprehended four males, all natives of Mexico, after surveillance was set up at the site.

“I was in Ames [Oct. 30] and stopped at two different sites — a roofing site on Sheldon [Avenue] and a landscaping site in town — to see if they knew what a green card was,” he said. “The word is out there — the construction trade people know what green cards are and what they need to hire someone. For some reason, this company was not up on what was needed.”

A green card gives an immigrant permission to live and work in the United States.

Dean McCormick, manager of construction services for Facilities Planning and Management, said Progressive Construction is a subcontractor of Taylor Ball, a Des Moines contractor.

Rick Ball of Taylor Ball was unable to be reached for comment.

McCormick said he doesn’t believe anyone at Iowa State knew about the immigrants working at the site.

“I don’t think anybody at the university had any knowledge of [the immigrants] before it happened,” he said. “If it happened last Thursday, we knew about it sometime this week.”

Noland said INS was tipped off to the illegal workers when they received reports that the four individuals who were eventually arrested were bragging to acquaintances about working without proper certification.

Noland said the men have admitted their guilt and have voluntarily chosen to return home instead of taking the issue of up with an immigration judge.

“They’re barred for 10 years from coming to the United States if they go in front of the judge and lose their case,” he said. “Very seldom do [immigrants] elect to go in front of a judge unless they have a legal standing such as being married to a U.S. citizen.”

If the men had chosen to see a judge, they probably would have been sent home because all four are single adult males without children, and they are laborers, not skilled tradesmen, said Noland.

Noland said he questioned five employees at the site Thursday before agents apprehended the four undocumented foreign nationals.

“Most of the time, the people realize they’re doing something wrong,” he said. “It’s almost a sigh of relief when they’re caught because they live in fear that they’re going to be arrested.”

Will Goddard, a bricklayer with the Boone-based Boucher Masonry Contracting, said the men “scattered like flies” when the INS officers arrived.

“They all scrambled and about knocked their wall over,” he said. “They thought it was a big deal; they [weren’t] wanting to go.”

Goddard and Grant Scott, who also is a bricklayer with Boucher Masonry, said illegal immigrants are considered “rats” in the contracting trade because they are not union workers.

Noland said by apprehending the undocumented foreign nationals, they are actually stopping the exploitation of the immigrants.

“They make only $7 per hour, so they are being paid low wages for what they are doing,” he said. “Normally on a job site like that, they’re paid almost $20 per hour to lay brick, sometimes more depending on the company.”

Noland said hopefully apprehending the immigrants will remind contractors they must hire legal citizens or people with green cards and pay them fairly. INS is continuing an investigation at the site to determine if the company knew the employee’s immigration status.

“We’re checking to see if the company knew they were undocumented foreign nationals and were exploiting them intentionally, or if they were duped into believing they were here legally,” he said.