"Busted" by the Washington Post
Oh, this is rich. I can't even give you all the inside details of how extraordinarily rich this story is, but you'll get a real good taste from this post.
First, some background. Let's start with a quote from an attendee at the August 1 NOVA TownHall meeting with Attorney General Bob McDonnell (I haven't done the whole transcript yet, sorry. If you are impatient, pay me.)
The AG had just noted that "Many Virginia and American business people say that they cannot find a sufficient quantity of American citizens to do some of the dirty, hard jobs."
A gentleman stood up and stated the following:
I recently left Sterling Park. It was a very hard decision for me to make. Sterling Park is not the community I grew up in. It's changed for the worse. It's just a situation I couldn't live with anymore. You go to bed with it every night and think about it 24 hours a day...
You made a statement that there are jobs that Americans won't do. But I travel to North Carolina and I see these Americans, like me and everybody sitting in here, doing the dirty jobs down there that supposedly big business up here says that they won't do. Well, they won't do it for slave wages for greedy big businesses. But if you go to North Carolina there's people like me and you and you and you, working at paving the roads, working in the restaurants, doing all the dirty work. You go to Lowes, for god's sake, you can't even speak English to ask for something you want. So it isn't that people won't do those jobs. They won't do them for five cents an hour. And big business is taking advantage of these illegal immigrants...
All of us normal, blue collar folks can't earn a decent wage anymore doing blue collar work around here. It's impossible to do. The construction industry's been taken over by illegal immigrants. You can't make money in it any more. They've undercut the wages. You can go ask anybody who has worked construction and they'll tell you the same thing. They're undercutting everybody. And the way the undercut is, they don't play by the same rules as everybody else. It's like you said, it's an underground economy. And what's the state of Virginia doing to penalize employers who knowingly employ illegal immigrants?
This was one of the biggest applause lines of the night.
Now, let's turn to a story that appeared on the front page of the Washington Post on August 7. Here's how it begins:
Constructing Lives off the Soccer Field Latino League Team Owners Attract Athletes With Jobs, Housing
By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 7, 2006; Page A01
All season long, El Destroyer had been winning, demolishing the competition in the Liga de Manassas with flair and ease. But with the soccer team stuck in a late 1-1 tie last Sunday, Jorge Morales, El Destroyer's owner and coach, was stalking the sideline, hand on cheek, worrying, worrying.
"Nerio," Morales yelled in Spanish, "give it to Nerio!" Moments later, striker Wilmer Zapata saw a chance and centered the ball perfectly to the team's star, who buried it in the net with the suave precision of a professional...
I was with some local citizens a couple weeks ago when one pulled out this edition of the Post and started reading the feel-good story aloud. Ears perked up as it progressed.
After all, Carlos Nerio was a professional three years ago, when he played on one of San Salvador's elite clubs. Now, when he's not scoring goals for his coach, he works for Morales's company, J.K. Carpentry Inc. of Sterling.
Carpentry? Well isn't that special.
Eager to boost their stature on and off the soccer field, owners lure players from far and wide with offers of steady jobs, free housing and money, turning people such as Morales into weekend coaches, weekday bosses and all-the-time landlords. With no rules to keep the cash out, the owners spend large sums with little expectation of financial return, even with $10,000 prizes at stake in the top leagues.
"Players from far and wide," "bosses" and "landlords?" That sounds like a trifecta of some type, does it not?
In return for the chance to make money, on the field and off, players live in cramped, dormitory-style accommodations and spend almost all their hours together, either working, practicing or playing in games.
Those "dormitory-style accommodations" might just be what we once called "the neighbor's house."
Paid $16 an hour, Nerio makes more in a week installing windows and doors than he made in a month as a pro fÃºtbolista in El Salvador.
$16 an hour in Northern VA as an installer, and likely without benefits or payroll taxes paid. I'm going to guess that, benefits included, legal workers are accustomed to making about twice that much.
Juan Navarrete, the owner of El Salvador de Manassas, El Destroyer's main rival, said he sank $40,000 into his team last year. Navarrete owns a home remodeling company, and this year he's imported five professional players from El Salvador for the season, paying them to play and stabling them rent-free in a house he owns.
"Stabling" imported personnel - well, where in the world might that be? If it was next to you, for instance, how might that change your policy about letting your kids play in the backyard or your daughters walk to and from the bus stop each day?
To keep even with his rival, Morales got athletic visas for three Salvadoran pros who will soon join El Destroyer for the championship run. They'll get $200 per game and free room and board in his home.
Eight players on El Destroyer double as employees of Morales's 45-person company. Most of Morales's workers are Salvadoran, and he maintains that everyone who works or plays for him has legal permission to do so, either through residency or a temporary protected status extended to Salvadorans and nationals of other countries in a state of crisis.
But on some rosters in the Washington leagues, green cards can be as rare as high-scoring games. Some players get to the United States with tourist visas and never go back, although plenty of others, including professionals, come like so many of their compatriots, with a dangerous hike through the desert and a long bus ride. And for many Americans, soccer fans or not, that's a red card.
Or maybe not so ok...
Every Sunday in Manassas, the games produce a kind of impromptu soccer festival, hidden from the rest of the community on the fields behind Stonewall Jackson High School.
Probably not much else happening back there, anyway.
But the big buzz in the Manassas league this season is the group of six young Afro Honduran players Morales relocated from New York last year. They work for Morales year-round, play for his indoor team and live in another house he owns. Few had carpentry experience when they landed in Sterling.
Well how unbelievably nice for the tenants and especially Mr. Morales. Up until recently, legal citizens made a living wage in trades like carpentry and drywall hanging, not to mention contracting. Now, those trades are gone - poof.
"If I don't make it as a professional player, at least I'll have other options," said Jason Guity, 22, shouting above the din of a circular saw at a job site in Gainesville, where he'd spent the week installing baseboards, windows and doorframes on new townhouses...
Morales convinced him to move to Virginia last August to play for El Destroyer, and he now receives $14 per hour building subdivisions. Living with his teammates is cramped but free, he said.
People who once were able to buy houses and raise families in Loudoun County working as rough and finish carpenters, owning contracting businesses and other blue-collar trades are SOL, thanks to people like Mr. Morales and his imported laborers.
Well, as the story was read, some of the details evoked nods of recognition, and it became clear some of the "stables" were right friggin' here.
One person noted "I also wonder if the soccer leagues mentioned in the article are paying for the soccer fields they use as well. I have heard many 'soccer moms' in Loudoun county complain about 'pickup' games that are often playing during the scheduled league practices of their children. They often have to call the cops in order to get the teams that are not scheduled to play off the field, which is difficult to do when there is obviously money riding on the outcome of the 'pickup' games."
A local resident sent this letter to the Washington Post:
Letter to the editor in response to article "Constructing Lives off the Soccer Field" By Nick Miroff published Monday, August 7, 2006
I find it interesting a Washington Post staff writer would find it acceptable for workers on or off the soccer field to live in "cramped, dormitory-style accommodations." Especially when most counties are struggling to combat overcrowding in single family homes in the DC metro area. Do you think the neighbors like it that Mr. Morales has stuffed several players into a home? I doubt the neighbors wanted to live next to a single family home that has been converted into a college style dormitory building which lacks extra parking for everyone to park numerous vans and cars. I also doubt Mr. Morales renovated the fire and safety equipment in the home his players live in prior to renting it out to that many people.
I also wonder if Mr. Morales actually has a business license to conduct work legally in Virginia and Loudoun County where his business, and presumably the house(s) his players live in, are located. I called both Loudoun County and the Virginia DPOR offices to look up Mr. Morales' business licenses. Currently Loudoun County and Virginia have no record of J.K. Carpentry Inc. which means he currently is not paying for business licenses to legally operate in Loudoun County or Virginia. I think we can also safely assume that he is not paying taxes on his business, supporting the various funds mandated by Virginia in case his work is not up to par, and I doubt he is paying for workman's compensation for his employees either like contractors are supposed to do in Virginia.
In other words, by importing cheap labor and otherwise operating his business "under the table" he has a monetary advantage over his competitors who are in compliance with all local and state contracting employment and regulatory laws. Plus, by housing his employees in dormitory like conditions he is most likely ruining the quality of life for the residents who have to endure the overcrowded housing conditions that have been foisted on them by an unscrupulous business owner.
Needless to say, zoning and other relevant agencies in Loudoun County have been alerted and the government's follow-up on the properties in question is being monitored. This won't slide. The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is up for re-election in 2007, so this is the perfect time for each of them to show that our government officials are committed to enforcing laws already on the books.
More than that, it is clear Virginia has a problem. Neighborhoods have taken a huge hit and many people have seen their livlihoods destroyed. When you have spent your whole life building a business as a contractor it seems pretty unfair when you start losing contracts because a competitor can undercut you with cheap labor.
The anger in Northern Virginia, both from homeowners and workers, is palpable. Citizens are annoyed with the local government across the board - Sheriff, Supervisors, Delegates and Senators. Thus far: Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio has been the most focused Loudoun official on solving the problem, advocating much better coordination between the various relevant segments of the county government; Delegate Tom Rust has advocated for more immigration enforcement authority for local law enforcement; Senator Ken Cuccinelli has been the number one stalwart of rationality in Richmond; and Senator Mark Herring has shown sincere interest in addressing these problems brought up by his constituents. I have faith in all these guys, and we in Help Save Loudoun look forward to hearing calls for immediate solutions to the problem of illegal immigrants in Sterling from all the others in our local and state government.
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