Thirteen illegal aliens, including two minors, were arrested Thursday at the downtown construction site of the Waterloo Place apartments, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service reported.
The workers were arrested at the entrance gate of the Mount Vernon-area project after a monthlong INS investigation that was prompted by complaints from Baltimore construction unions.
The workers, from Mexico and Central America, each posted $500 bond and were released pending a deportation hearing later before an administrative law judge. One individual had an expired tourist visa; the others lacked any entry documentation, the INS said.
The agency said it is continuing to investigate possible violations by site contractors, who could face fines of up to $2,000 for each alien hired.
Tom Perryman, supervising agent for the INS operation, said there appeared to be violations of safety and child labor laws on the site, which were referred to other agencies.
"Everybody has to have documentation; we make that a part of our contract," responded Jim Wanja, vice president of Houston-based Blazer Building Inc., general contractor on the $18.6 million project.
Mr. Wanja said he understood that all those arrested had been released because they produced proper documentation. Two Blazer employees who were arrested showed required documents and were released, he said.
Mr. Perryman, who conducted undercover surveillance of the project before the raid, reiterated that all 13 aliens lacked work authorization papers.
None of those arrested worked on the Waterloo project more than a month or two, the INS agent said. Some of the workers apparently came to Maryland after working for the same employers in Ohio, Mr. Perryman added.
Arrests of illegal aliens continue despite the 1986 law that gave amnesty to some illegals and required employers to verify work documents of their employees, he said.
Makers of counterfeit documents have seriously compromised the law's effectiveness, producing "green card" residence permits and SocialSecurity cards that are used by illegal workers to gain employment, Mr. Perryman said.
The INS recently raided a print shop in Hyattsville that allegedly was producing phony green cards and Social Security cards, he noted. A false Social Security card sells for about $40, a green card for between $50 and $200.
"It's a real problem," the agent said. "With some of these documents, they can get a job almost any place," although the falsified papers are readily detected by INS inspectors, he said.
David Tufaro, developer of Waterloo Place, said yesterday that he was unaware of the INS raid. As general contractor, Blazer Building assumed those employment verification responsibilities, Mr. Tufaro said. Numerous subcontractors have been involved in building the 196-unit complex, which was started in the fall of 1989.
William P. Kaczorowski, president of the Baltimore-area construction unions council, said his group had blown the whistle on the violations and had worked with the INS.
"It's a shame that we have to police these sites, instead of the state labor inspectors who should be out there looking for these things," the labor union official said.
Mr. Perryman agreed that most of the INS investigations stemmed from private complaints about possible violations.