Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry and Mitt Romney exchanged heated words during Tuesday’s debate after Perry accused Romney of hiring illegal immigrants to work as landscapers at Romney’s home. Perry stated that many illegal immigrants cross into the US from Mexico because they are drawn to available jobs. In the video below he proclaimed:
“Those people who hire illegals ought to be penalized. And Mitt, you lose all of your standing from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home, and you knew about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you’re strong on immigration is on its face the height of hypocrisy.”
Romney answered “I don’t think that I have ever hired an illegal in my life.” He explained that he hired a landscaping company, but did not know when he hired that company that they used illegal immigrants as workers. After Romney was told that there were illegal immigrants working for the company, Romney told the company that they must not allow any illegals to work on his property. Later, he found out that the company was still using illegal immigrants who had been hired after presenting false documents. Romney then stopped using that lawn care company.
About the issue of not knowing whether the people who work for you have a legal right to work when they have been hired by a contractor, Romney stated:
“It is hard in this country, as an individual homeowner, to know if people who are contractors working at your home, [to know] if they have hired people who are illegal. If I’m President, we’ll put in place an E-Verify system (which you’ve opposed) to make sure that we can find out who’s here legally and not and crack down on people who come here illegally.”
It is likely that Romney is telling the truth when he claims not to have known that some of the workers who were mowing his lawn were illegal, but the question is whether that is a legitimate excuse. Just as general contractors are now finding themselves responsible for the actions of workers hired by subcontractors through the joint employment theory, individuals may one day be held responsible for ensuring that contractors they hire only employ workers with a legal right to work.
Romney may not have known the status of the people working for the company he hired, but his oblivion came back to bite him in the end. Owners, developers, and general contractors who believe that “ignorance is bliss” when it comes to knowing who is working on their job sites should think again.