ICE raids prompt landscaper to voice concern over trend

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CHAGRIN FALLS, OHIO – On the heels of recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids across Northeast Ohio, a Chagrin Fall business owner says the raids are also causing concern for employers.

“If companies had to hire these illegals; I’m not standing behind that,” said Joe Drake, owner of J.F.D. Landscapes. “I also can understand if they’re threatened to go out of business because they can’t find a legal workforce what are they supposed to do?”

It’s a question Drake, in business since 1989, says lingers at the end of everyday. As his industry continues to depend more on the employment of foreign employees.

“We run ads all over the place,” said operations manager Jeff Lennon. “We get a lot of responses back, set up a lot of interviews and most of the time people don’t show up for the interview.”

The frustrating trend prompting a new one, increased reliance on the H-2B Visa program. Drake says he is one of the lucky ones this year, winning a U.S. Department of Labor lottery for additional workers on the visas. According to Drake, there are around 16 employees on the visa program working at the business.

He says he got the news just before sending notices to customers he would not be able to meet the demand for services and telling staff he would be forced to cut employment. Some of his local fellow competitors were not so lucky.

“Eight to 10 million dollar companies had between 50 and 70 employees they were not able to get,” said Drake. “So they have been struggling since day one to keep their business afloat. The owners are out pruning bushes, mowing lawns.”

While the future remains uncertain for landscapers, Drake says it can be difficult to decipher who is working here legally, a lesson he says he learned during a federal raid on his business in the late 1990’s.

“I got a call from my manager we were being raided,” said Drake. “One of the workers was undocumented, the paperwork was forged. I didn’t know that.”

The trend now being repeated across the state as the heat is turned up on companies hiring undocumented immigrants. Meanwhile, with perception at a boiling point, one employee a naturalized U.S. citizen from Mexico requested not to be identified.

“It’s hard work and you know not everyone want to do this kind of work,” said the employee. “They make you feel like you’re nothing, or your not supposed to be here, you gotta go back to your country.”

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