Opinion

How a Willow Grove Business Made Trump Look Very Smart About Immigration

Marks: Asplundh Tree Company's violations will only enable the anti-immigration movement.
asplundh

File photo of Asplundh workers cleaning up after a 2016 snowstorm. | Photo by Frank Eltman/AP

“We accept responsibility for the charges as outlined, and we apologize to our customers, associates and all other stakeholders for what has occurred.”

Those words were said by Scott Asplundh, chairman and CEO of the Asplundh Tree Company, after the company was fined a whopping $95 million last week for violating immigration rules. It’s the largest-ever fine for an immigration violation. Thanks Scott. Donald Trump is applauding you. You’ve made him look very smart, which is in and of itself quite an accomplishment.

According to this USA Today report, Asplundh — a 90-year-old family-owned company located in Willow Grove that employs more than 30,000 people around the world — also employed thousands of “unauthorized workers” between 2010 to 2014. Translation: illegal immigrants. Management claims they were “willfully blind” because lower-level supervisors made the hiring decisions with little oversight and moved these workers around to avoid detection. Three Asplundh managers, including a vice president, have pled guilty.

None of this surprises others who compete or work along with Asplundh in the area. “I saw this all the time,” a client of mine who runs a 100-person landscaping firm in Newtown, Pa. told me over the weekend. (He declined to be identified here.) “We don’t employ illegal immigrants. But many in our industry do. And it makes it tougher for all of us.”

It sure does. So thanks again, Scott, for completely justifying the president’s immigration arguments. You made him proud. By behaving this way, you’ve provided fuel to those who support deporting illegal immigrants.

This behavior from a local company will undoubtedly make it much tougher for Mayor Jim Kenney to argue against the Justice Department’s crackdown on “sanctuary cities.” Even as the mayor contends that deporting illegal immigrants from sanctuary cities like Philadelphia will compromise the city’s safety and economic growth, anti-immigration groups will use examples like Asplundh to show how those very immigrants are hurting everyone around them by taking their jobs away.

And this argument will be tough to overcome. My God, this is a huge company with a well-known brand and a respected reputation! Yet, for years they employed thousands — thousands! — of undocumented workers under the nose of the government. We all know why. It’s just money and greed.

By using undocumented workers, the company could offer them less pay and no benefits. By doing this, they lowered their overhead and were able to undercut their competitors’ pricing, thereby hurting the livelihoods of those companies (and their employees) who abided by the law. They shut out legal immigrants from opportunities that they deserved. And please, don’t blame a workforce shortage. There are many out there who would do the work if compensation was fair. But how to raise wages when companies like Asplundh (and their corrupt executives) keep them depressed by employing undocumented aliens?

Asplundh isn’t the only company engaging in this illegal activity. My landscaping client knows others in the area who routinely do the same, although he refused to name names. And that’s just in Philadelphia, where manual labor like this kind is mostly tied to seasonal jobs. The problem is bigger in warm-weather states like Texas, Arizona, California and Florida, where companies — even very large companies — flout immigration laws and exploit illegal immigrants because they can.

Everyone knows that the immigration problem in this country needs better laws and more clarity. Everyone appreciates the value of immigrants and are grateful for the opportunities that America provided to their ancestors who migrated here. Unfortunately, some prefer taking harsh measures like deporting entire families and taking the chance away from “dreamers” to make a difference.

But more unfortunate is the behavior of companies like Asplundh, which make it much more difficult for those who sympathize with the plight of illegal immigrants to fight on their behalf. Thanks again, Scott.

Gene Marks, CPA, runs a ten-person technology consulting firm in Bala Cynwyd. He writes daily for the Washington Post and weekly for Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, and the Huffington Post.