U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service agents say it was an anonymous tip that led them to arrest 18 illegal immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala at an Edgewood construction site two weeks ago.
INS agents started an investigation several weeks ago after they receiveda phone call that provided information about workers at The Gap warehouse site on Trimble Road, said Martin Renkiewicz, a spokesman for the INS office in Baltimore.
Twelve INS agents arrived at the construction site at 7 a.m. May 29, initially arresting 20 men of the 50 workers at the site, Renkiewicz said.
The immigrants worked for SDI Industries, a subcontracting company from of Pacoima, Calif., Renkiewicz said. They were transported to Harford from California by the company and were staying at an Aberdeen hotel while working at the Edgewood site.
SDI did not respond to phone calls from The Harford Sun.
The 14 Mexicans are expected to be sent back to Mexico after waiving deportation hearings, Renkiewicz said.
Four Guatemalans are eligible for political asylum and work papers, but must formally apply for the documents, he said.
Two other workers, one Mexican and one Guatemalan, were releasedafter it was learned they had the proper documents to work in the United States, Renkiewicz said.
The immigrants, mostly in their early 20s, came to the United States between 1989 and April, Renkiewicz said. "They all entered the country illegally at the southern border,"he said.
Renkiewicz said it's unusual for his office to see illegal immigrants sent from California working in Maryland, although agents have found workers sent from Texas.
"It certainly caught our attention," he said. "It's something new for us. We don't see much of that in Maryland."
INS agents are now investigating whether SDI Industries followed proper procedures when hiring the construction workers, Renkiewicz said. All U.S. employers have been required by law to verify the citizenship of their workers since 1986, Renkiewicz said. "We expect a good-faith effort," he said.
The investigation shouldbe concluded next week.
Penalties for violations of the law vary,ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 per worker for knowingly hiring illegal aliens and from $100 to $500 per worker for maintaining inaccurate documents, Renkiewicz said.