As the federal case against Hugo and Blanca Diaz whimpers to a close, there’s a need to clear a misconception surrounding the case.
Columbia County government didn’t enable this illegal enterprise. Hugo and Blanca made (much of) their money not by being licensed builders themselves, but by providing workers to licensed builders.
That’s a vitally important distinction. Here’s why:
Licensed builders must obtain a state general contractors license, which among other things requires proof of U.S. citizenship.
Hugo and Blanca aren’t U.S. citizens. Blanca is being deported, and Hugo will be once he finishes his sentence in federal prison. Because they weren’t here legally, neither legally could get a state license. Lacking that license, they couldn’t apply for or receive county building permits.
Columbia County didn’t stop them because it didn’t have the opportunity.
“He had to have a state contractor’s license to build and he never had that, so he never had to pull a permit,” said Columbia County Development Services Division Director Richard Harmon. “He was a subcontractor to builders. He hung sheetrock and he framed buildings. ... To do all those things you don’t have to have permits, because all those are covered under the builder’s license.
“If he actually was a builder, he would have to have had a state license as a builder to pull permits, and he didn’t have such an animal,” Harmon said. “For obvious reasons, he didn’t apply for one.”
To sum up: Hugo and Blanca Diaz and their various entities couldn’t be licensed as contractors because Hugo and Blanca are illegal aliens. But they didn’t need licenses as long as they were merely supplying labor (from other illegal immigrants) to contractors, who used their license to purchase the permits.
Diaz had three companies that paid occupation taxes to Columbia County. Those companies started in Richmond County, and moved here about three years ago before local governments had access to a federal verification system. Now in place, that system likely would have caught them, but they were arrested first.
That system’s existence already is a deterrent, Harmon says; some applicants, when told they’ll have to prove citizenship, simply turn and walk out.
I asked Sheriff Clay Whittle – the man who pushed for the federal investigation of Hugo and Blanca – if Columbia County government could have done anything differently to prevent the Diaz enterprise.
His answer: No.
So, other than the lying illegals, who is at fault? Mostly the feds, for failing to keep our borders secure while fighting state and local efforts to enforce immigration law. That’s a given.
But a huge chunk of the blame goes to legal, licensed builders who sold out the birthright of their own citizenship by using cheap, illegal laborers in an effort to make a few more bucks.For them, Harmon said, the Diaz case means “the price of construction went up.”
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)