JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations said it has no authority over undocumented workers, and now, a new Senate panel is looking at what can be done to discourage employers from illegal immigration.
Throughout the state of Missouri, there are roughly 60,000 undocumented immigrants. The Senate Interim Committee on Illegal Immigration was formed by Senate President Dave Schatz (R-Sullivan) who is running for U.S. Senator Roy Blunt’s seat later this year. The goal of the committee is to try and address what some of them are calling a growing problem in the Show-Me State.
“If we get any kind of tip like that, we would defer it to the U.S. Department of Labor or Homeland Security,” legislative liaison for the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Ben Terrell said. “The Missouri Department of Labor does not have any authority when it comes to illegal immigration.”
While the Labor Department said it doesn’t investigate immigration status, it did conduct nearly 14,000 other investigations last year. The department found more than 2,000 workers misclassified but undocumented workers don’t fall under that category.
“What we do investigate are work misclassifications. And that’s the question of, is this worker an employee or an independent contractor?” Terrell said. “If we get a tip and investigate, and we find that someone has been misclassified and the employer is not paying the appropriate taxes, we will go after them and will collect those taxes.”
Sen. Justin Brown (R-Rolla) is the chairman of the committee, with the goal of identifying concerns.
“I’m a small business guy, and I’m all about protecting businesses, but somebody is going to have to answer for this problem or this is not going to be solved,” Brown said. “I’m not just talking about the labor part of it, not to mention the drugs and human trafficking pieces that are equally as horrible.”
The panel met just days after 53 migrants died in San Antonio, Texas. They were left inside a tractor-trailer without air-conditioning, one of the deadliest smuggling incidents in the nation’s history.
“I don’t hold anything against these workers coming up to better their lives or take care of their families,” said Sen. Doug Beck (D-St. Louis). “I hold something against the employers that are exploiting them.”
One recommendation from Beck to the panel is to increase the penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers.
“I don’t think we have a worker shortage,” Beck said. “I think we have companies trying to exploit workers and put more money back into their pocket and it seems disingenuous.”
Brown recommends that the Labor Department get more involved with immigration status at businesses throughout the state.
“We start at the Department of Labor because I can tell if you, if that small business, was behind on their taxes, the Department of Revenue would be down on them like a dog on a bone,” Brown said.
Matias Raigoza owns Rayoza Contracting, a drywall business in Missouri. He said he is paying thousands of dollars to use visa workers, and it’s not unfair to the business owners not paying taxes.
“We were bidding a job in St. Louis and the contractor who was awarded the contract was a million dollars under us,” Raigoza said. “How can we compete with people like that?”
Joyce Mucci, who was a former field representative for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said the state should require businesses to use an electronic verification system to check the status of an employee’s citizenship.
“The state uses it for its state employees and for contractors, but it should be across the board,” Mucci said.
The committee plans to meet again later this month. This all comes after Gov. Mike Parson joined 25 other states to establish the “American Governors’ Border Strike Force” to stop human smuggling, the flow of illegal drugs, and criminal organizations and cartels.