Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., is asking the Bush administration to send immigration enforcement officers to the Gulf Coast to investigate whether federal contractors are hiring undocumented workers to do Katrina recovery work.
"While my state experiences unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression, it is unconscionable that illegal workers would be brought into Louisiana aggravating our employment crisis and depressing earnings for our workers," Landrieu said in a statement.
Landrieu cited testimony this week by electrical workers who had been employed at the Belle Chasse Naval Air Station. The workers said they were replaced Oct. 1 by contractor BE&K of Birmingham, Ala., with workers willing to work for significantly lower wages. The displaced workers were doing electrical work on the base, some related to wiring a tent city for Hurricane Katrina relief workers.
It was unclear, Landrieu said, whether the replacement workers are here legally.
Two of the displaced workers told Democratic senators conducting a hearing Monday on hurricane relief efforts that about 75 electricians from New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lake Charles lost their jobs at Belle Chasse. The culprit, the workers said, was the Bush administration's decision to exempt hurricane relief work from a federal law requiring all government contractors to pay prevailing wages and benefits...
BE&K denies the charges, but: while the Bush administration almost completely refuses to enforce immigration laws against employers, those employers who they've pursued end up having used contractors, labor suppliers, and the like.
See also Did a Halliburton subcontractor hire illegal aliens to work on a Navy base?
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.
Some Americans are not.
See also: "More Mary Landrieu and alleged illegal aliens employed by Halliburton subcontractor"
And here I thought we already had one. However, this is a different kind of plan: the new one involves the military taking control during a natural or other disaster. From the AP's "Bush Told U.S. Needs Post-Disaster Plan":
Bush got an update about the federal hurricane response from military leaders at Randolph Air Force Base. He heard from Lt. Gen. Robert Clark, joint military task force commander for Hurricane Rita, and Maj. Gen. John White, a task force member, who noted confusion in search and rescue operations after Hurricane Katrina.
With Katrina, "we knew the coordination piece was a problem," White said. "With Rita, we had the benefit of time. We may not have that time in an earthquake scenario or similar incident."
"With a national plan, we'll have a quick jump-start and an opportunity to save more people," White said.
Bush thanked White for his recommendations.
"This is precisely the kind of information I'll take back to Washington to help all of us understand how to do a better job," the president said.
Is it just me, or haven't I heard the same uttered by other world leaders, some of them less than savory characters?
Continuing, Bush said:
"Clearly, in the case of a terrorist attack, that would be the case, but is there a natural disaster of a certain size that would then enable the Defense Department to become the lead agency in coordinating and leading the response effort... That's going to be a very important consideration for Congress to think about."
Yes indeed. Congress should think very deeply about what additional powers they want to give the U.S. military to operate inside the U.S.
A local paper has a subscriber-only article:
A former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Friday that he's uncomfortable with President Bush's proposal to give the armed forces a broader role in disasters after the federal government's handling of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath.
James Lee Witt, an Arkansas native who is advising Louisiana's governor on that state's recovery from the Aug. 29 storm, said governors shouldn't have their powers taken away from them during a natural disaster.
Witt said he mostly agrees with the proposals the president made during a live nationally televised address from New Orleans, but he disagrees with the idea of expanding the military's role.
"A governor of a state is responsible for the people of a state," Witt said in a telephone interview from Louisiana. "I don't think it's necessary to tax the military with even more than what they're already doing. "
Witt, who served as FEMA director under President Clinton for eight years, said he also had hoped the president would have proposed restoring the federal agency to its Cabinet-level status. In 2002, a reorganization put FEMA under the newly created Department of Homeland Security.
"I think it would have been a different response" if FEMA was a Cabinet-level position, Witt said. "Anytime you take away not only leadership, but you also take programs and assets out of an agency, it really does hurt them in the sense of having capability to fulfill their role. I think that hurt them."
(Excerpt via talkleft, so hopefully the full article will become available soon.)
President Bush's push to give the military a bigger role in responding to major disasters like Hurricane Katrina could lead to a loosening of legal limits on the use of federal troops on U.S. soil.
...Bush did not define the wider role he envisions for the military...
At question, however, is how far to push the military role, which by law may not include actions that can be defined as law enforcement _ stopping traffic, searching people, seizing property or making arrests. That prohibition is spelled out in the Posse Comitatus Act of enacted after the Civil War mainly to prevent federal troops from supervising elections in former Confederate states.
Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said, "I believe the time has come that we reflect on the Posse Comitatus Act." He advocated giving the president and the secretary of defense "correct standby authorities" to manage disasters.
...Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is reviewing a wide range of possible changes in the way the military could be used in domestic emergencies, spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said Friday. He said these included possible changes in the relationship between federal and state military authorities.
Under the existing relationship, a state's governor is chiefly responsible for disaster preparedness and response.
Governors can request assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If federal armed forces are brought in to help, they do so in support of FEMA...
Di Rita said Rumsfeld has not made recommendations to Bush, but among the issues he is examining is the viability of the Posse Comitatus Act. Di Rita called it one of the "very archaic laws" from a different era in U.S. history that limits the Pentagon's flexibility in responding to 21st century domestic crises.
Another such law, Di Rita said, is the Civil War-era Insurrection Act, which Bush could have invoked to waive the law enforcement restrictions of the Posse Comitatus Act. That would have enabled him to use either National Guard soldiers or active-duty troops _ or both _ to quell the looting and other lawlessness that broke out in New Orleans.
The Insurrection Act lets the president call troops into federal action inside the United States whenever "unlawful obstructions, combinations or assemblages _ or rebellion against the authority of the United States _ make it impracticable to enforce the laws" in any state.
The political problem in Katrina was that Bush would have had to impose federal command over the wishes of two governors _ Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana and Haley Barbour of Mississippi _ who made it clear they wanted to retain state control...
The article "Key military help for victims of Hurricane Katrina was delayed" says that Bush already had enough military powers to do what was necessary, he - and Michael Chertoff - simply failed to act quickly enough. The military has taken part in past disasters, and that's allowed as long as they don't perform police activities.
..."If the 1st Cav and 82nd Airborne had gotten there on time, I think we would have saved some lives," said Gen. Julius Becton Jr., who was the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Reagan from 1985 to 1989. "We recognized we had to get people out, and they had helicopters to do that."
...Between 1992 and 1996, the Pentagon provided support in 18 disasters and developed five training manuals on how to work with FEMA and civilians in natural disasters...
... Several emergency response experts, however, questioned whether Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff understood how much authority they had to tap all the resources of the federal government - including those of the Department of Defense.
"To say I've suddenly discovered the military needs to be involved is like saying wheels should be round instead of square," said Michael Greenberger, a law professor and the director of the University of Maryland's Center for Health and Homeland Security...
..."Everything he did and everything he has said strongly suggests that [the National Response Plan] was never read," Greenberger said of Chertoff...
... Former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, who served under President Clinton, believes that the Bush administration is mistaken if it thinks there are impediments to using the military for non-policing help in a disaster.
"When we were there and FEMA was intact, the military was a resource to us," said Witt. "We pulled them in very quickly. I don't know what rule he (Bush) talked about. ... We used military assets a lot."
Jamie Gorelick, the deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration who also was a member of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 terror attacks, said clear legal guidelines have been in place for using the military on U.S. soil since at least 1996, when the Justice Department was planning for the Olympic Games in Atlanta.
"It's not like people hadn't thought about this," Gorelick said. "This is not new. We've had riots. We've had floods. We've had the loss of police control over communities.
"I'm puzzled as to what happened here," she said...
... "I see no impediment in law or in policy to getting them there," [ Scott Silliman, a former judge advocate general who's now the executive director of Duke University Law School's Center for Law, Ethics and National Security] said. "We could have sent in helicopters. We could have sent in forces to do search and rescue and to provide humanitarian aid. Everything but law enforcement."
... "They're trying to say that greater federal authority would have made a difference," said George Haddow, a former FEMA deputy chief of staff and the co-author of a textbook on emergency management. "The reality is that the feds are the ones that screwed up in the first place. It's not about authority. It's about leadership. ... They've got all the authority already."
Other parts of this article were covered in "Levee break, military response timeline".
Piecing together the unconfirmed timeline presented in "Key military help for victims of Hurricane Katrina was delayed" we get:
- Aug 29: landfall; "levee breaches" occur
Aug 29 3:22:00 PM - Navy says USS Bataan is standing by.
- Aug 30: Michael Chertoff goes to Atlanta for a "previously scheduled briefing on avian flu"
- Aug 30: "[Chertoff] aides also concede that Washington officials were unable to confirm that the levees in New Orleans had failed until midday on Aug. 30. The breaches were first discovered in Louisiana some 32 hours earlier."
- Aug 31: CNN mentions Bataan in passing.
- Aug 31: "President Bush went on national television to announce a massive federal rescue and relief effort"
- But orders to move didn't reach key active military units for another three days. (Sep. 2?)
Once they received them, it took just eight hours for 3,600 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., to be on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi with vital search-and-rescue helicopters. Another 2,500 soon followed from the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.
Then, from "Military May Play Bigger Relief Role":
[Sep. 3:] The active-duty elements that Bush did send to Louisiana and Mississippi included some Army and Marine Corps helicopters and their crews, plus Navy ships. The main federal ground forces, led by troops of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., arrived late Saturday, five days after Katrina struck.
And, from Sep. 4 comes "Navy ship nearby underused" about the Bataan.