Bear in mind we aren't just talking about alleged illegal aliens taking jobs that should go to those Americans affected by the storm. We're also talking about them working on a U.S. Navy base, so there's that little extra kick in the teeth.
Immigration agents detained a large number of illegal immigrants working for a Halliburton subcontractor hired to do Hurricane Katrina recovery work, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu's office said on Thursday.
The workers - numbering possibly more than 100 - were involved in setting up a tent city at a Navy base just outside New Orleans when they were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on Wednesday, according to Landrieu's office.
Landrieu's office claimed that the alleged illegal workers were employed by BE&K. The Birmingham, Ala.-based subcontractor acknowledged that immigration officials descended on its work site, but said none of its employees were detained. Susan Wasley, a BE&K spokeswoman, said that about 136 workers from a different company on the project were detained. She would not name the other company.
She added that all BE&K's workers have valid work documents and that only about three of the 150 workers at the Navy base are green-card holders.
BE&K was awarded the work by Halliburton, which won contracts after Katrina to repair several military bases in the hard-hit Gulf Coast region, said Adam Sharp, a Landrieu spokesman.
"It is a downright shame that any contractor would use this tragedy as an opportunity to line his pockets by breaking the law and hiring a low-skilled, low-wage and undocumented work force," Landrieu said in a statement.
The Democratic senator sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Tuesday urging him to investigate allegations that the use of illegal workers was becoming "chronic" in rebuilding of the Gulf Coast region.
Immigration officials would not confirm nor deny that illegal workers were detained at the Belle Chasse Naval Air Station.
"The federal government must ensure that every company, no matter how big, follows the law and provides Gulf Coast residents with the jobs they deserve," Landrieu said.
Wasley said 75 percent of the workers at Belle Chasse were from the hurricane-hit states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas.
Allegations that illegal workers might be employed at the Navy base surfaced during congressional testimony given by Louisiana electrical contractors with Knight Enterprises who said they were hired by BE&K to build a 7,500-person tent city at the base.
Al Knight, the general manager of Knight Enterprises, testified that his 75 workers were fired after they trained the low-wage, out-of-state BE&K workers. BE&K denies that allegation, Wasley said.
The tent city was built to house military personnel involved in the rebuilding. Wasley said BE&K has also worked on the base's electrical systems, air conditioning and a temporary shower facility.