Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, harshly criticized by Hispanic leaders three weeks ago when he ordered a city task force to search out illegal aliens at construction sites, acknowledged yesterday that the city has failed to turn up a single illegal alien after visiting more than 100 sites.
"It appears that we don't have as big a problem as the building trades led me to believe," Mr. Schmoke said.
The mayor, who met with Hispanic leaders last Friday at City Hall to hear their concerns, has since asked the task force to focus primarily on contractor compliance with federal, state and local laws governing wage levels and hiring practices.
Mr. Schmoke also said he ordered the task force to contact his office, rather than federal immigration officials, should they suspect a contractor of hiring undocumented aliens.
The mayor said the sweeps have been constructive, however, in that they demonstrate to potentially unscrupulous employers that the city is serious about enforcing minimum wage laws.
Informed of the mayor's comments, Gali R. Sanchez, a member of the Mayor's Committee on Hispanic Affairs, said: "If that is the case, this is positive.
But Mr. Sanchez said he is still concerned that the task force might become a tool for labor unions seeking to control construction jobs by making the Hispanic community a scapegoat for the poor economy.
"I'm happy to hear that the matter of immigration is not the central issue, but I am concerned that this matter of the undocumented keeps popping up," Mr. Sanchez said.
"I thought we had an understanding with the mayor that it wouldn't. The undocumented are just victims in this."
On May 1, Mr. Schmoke announced the creation of a team led by the city solicitor's office that would go unannounced to construction projects that receive public funding to review citizenship documentation for workers.
Mr. Schmoke's announcement came after 13 illegal aliens, from Mexico and Central America, were arrested by Immigration and Naturalization Service officials at a construction site in Mount Vernon.
The arrests brought complaints from union leaders that contractors employing illegal aliens were forcing legitimate contractors out of work.