One of the headlines from this month’s voting was the landslide reelection of Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, a Republican who may well deserve the title of Connecticut’s leading anti-illegal-immigrant politician.
Boughton gained national attention a few years ago for pushing local police to help federal agents round up undocumented immigrants in his city.

In one action, Danbury cops lured immigrants in by pretending to offer them jobs, a brilliant strategy that ended up costing Danbury $400,000 when those men sued and won. Perhaps not exactly the kind of outcome that the group Boughton co-founded, “Mayors and Executives for Immigration Reform,” would desire.

Connecticut’s new and very conservative state Republican Party chairman, Jerry Labriola Jr., called Boughton a “rising star” and suggested he could be a top contender for the party’s 2014 gubernatorial nomination. Boughton was last year’s GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, losing by a mere 6,000 votes.
Interestingly enough, just as Boughton was basking in praise from his GOP colleagues, an immigration-related story was breaking on the other side of Connecticut. And that case highlights some of the complexities and dangers involved in the whole immigration debate.
According to various sources, state Labor Department inspectors are investigating a construction project called “Storrs Center” on land donated by the University of Connecticut next to its campus in Mansfield. They allegedly found as many as 18 undocumented immigrants working for a company called Monroe Interior Inc., according to the Connecticut Laborers’ District Council.

While state labor officials acknowledge they made visits to the site on Oct. 17 and Nov. 7, they can’t comment other than to deny they had any contact with a Monroe Interior Inc. The project’s developer, Storrs Center Alliance, denies that company ever had a contract on the project, and called the allegations about undocumented immigrant workers “inaccurate.”

A spokesman for the project’s general contractor, Erland Construction, also insisted that all sub-contractors’ workers are required to have proper documentation.

James Duffy, executive director of Labor Management Foundation for Fair Contracting of Connecticut, says his group got information about the Labor Department action from sources at the development project. “We insist the information we received was accurate,” he says.

“It’s not a figment of somebody’s imagination,” Duffy says of Monroe Interior, a company that New York state corporation records show was dissolved on Oct. 26 - shortly after the first Labor Department inspection.

According to Duffy, his watchdog organization discovered those undocumented workers were being paid $10 an hour with no benefits, and says the company that hired them was probably also renting them places to sleep in shifts, a practice known as “hot-bedding.”

“We had been tracking this project since it began in the summer time,” Duffy says. He says his group had reports of “just about every violation you can imagine.”

Duffy doesn’t believe any of the immigrants were arrested, since state labor officials had no such power even if they were undocumented. “They probably scattered to the four winds,” says Duffy.

“The presence of undocumented workers means there are untrained workers on site who fail to follow area standards,” Charles LeConche, the Laborers’ District Council’s business manager, argued in a prepared statement. He believes the raid “probably averted some kind of construction site injury or death.”

Exactly who among the different federal agencies might be investigating this appears unclear. A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says his agency has no knowledge of or involvement in the Storrs Center investigation. State labor officials say that, if they were to encounter any undocumented immigrants working on a job site, they’d contact the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. But a spokesman for that agency’s Boston regional office says he isn’t aware of any federal action involving the Storrs Center site.

Connecticut union officials have been critical of the Storrs Center project for hiring out-of-state contractors and workers. They even staged a protest when Gov. Dannel Malloy attended the ground-breaking ceremonies back in June.

Most of the time, undocumented immigrants in Connecticut and around the nation get the jobs American workers don’t want: picking crops, hauling up shellfish from Long Island Sound, washing dishes and cooking in restaurants, or mowing lawns.

Those undocumented guys picked up by Danbury cops back in 2006, for example, were day laborers looking for any work they could get. The “Danbury 11,” as they came to be known, won a $250,000 settlement from the federal government in addition to the money the city had to pay them.

In the Storrs Center case, these immigrants were working construction jobs at far below union wages for a company that went out of business shortly after the raid took place.

So were these undocumented immigrants “stealing” jobs from good American union workers, or were they victims of a scum-sucking company looking to maximize profits?

The one certainty is that this immigration issue won’t be going away, either for Connecticut or for Boughton, until Congress and the president find a way to enact some rational national reforms.