U.S. Customs and Border Protection recently awarded contracts to six firms to build concrete and non-concrete prototypes of a U.S.-Mexico border wall promised by President Donald J. Trump. Just weeks later, reports revealed that two of the selected firms were convicted of defrauding the government and one firm countered a lawsuit by injured subcontractors with the argument that one of the workers was an undocumented immigrant. This spotty history spells trouble for a process that is already fraught with controversy and estimated to cost billions of dollars.
Caddell Construction, a firm based in Montgomery, Alabama, was awarded contracts to build both concrete and non-concrete prototypes. The company settled a criminal case in 2013 with the Department of Justice in which they paid a total of about $3 million for submitting falsified reimbursement claims for mentoring a Native American-owned company on a construction project. This made them eligible for federal funds awarded through the mentor-protege program, which offers federal reimbursements for supporting minority-owned businesses.
Fisher Industries, a firm based in Tempe, Arizona, was contracted to build concrete border wall prototypes. The company’s history is marked by a constellation of environmental and workplace violations: failure to control dust pollution resulting in health concerns for workers, retaliation against the sexual harassment claims of female employees, and their presidents’ ongoing habit of writing off personal expenses as business expenses (for which one executive was sent to prison for 37 months by the IRS; another got off scot free). Last but not least, their eponymous former owner David Fisher was locked away for five years in a 2005 child pornography case.
A third bid winner that was selected to build both concrete and non-concrete wall prototypes, W.G. Yates & Sons Construction of Philadelphia, Mississippi, was the subject of scrutiny after the scaffolding on a hospital project collapsed on a group of workers. When the workers sued Yates for damages, Yates argued in court court was that one of the employed subcontractors was an undocumented immigrant and “therefore not lawfully employed.” This is a chilling relegation of responsibility for workers safety, especially when applied to the construction of a massive border wall. Yates’ workers compensation policy ultimately meant that the company was not held responsible.