Immigration agents raided two Baltimore workplaces yesterday, including the Lexington Market, and arrested 18 employees suspected of being illegal aliens.
ZTC The raids are part of increasing efforts by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to prosecute employers of undocumented workers and to arrest the employees.
The agents also targeted Donut Delight Inc., a 25-year-old company with 80 employees on Georgetown Road. About 15 of the bakery's workers were questioned, but only one was arrested.
"From the number of leads we have, we believe that hundreds of employers are disregarding the laws blatantly, or winking at best," said Benedict Ferro, district director of the INS Maryland office. That means fewer jobs for Maryland residents, he said.
Companies may be fined in the tens of thousands of dollars for knowingly employing even one illegal alien.
About 30 INS agents and city police fanned out through the Lexington Market during the 9:15 a.m. raid, approaching produce stands, delis and fried chicken vendors to ask workers for immigration documents. Legal aliens are required to carry those records at all times.
Agents had received tips and conducted surveillance at the market during the past two months, identifying more than 20 merchants suspected of hiring illegals.
The arrests forced several vendors to turn off cookers, lock their cash registers and close up shop. Most of those arrested were Salvadoran; others were from Honduras, Korea, Mexico and the Philippines.
Workers without green cards or work permits were handcuffed and put on a bus that took them to the INS investigations office on Caton Avenue.
"It's too early to determine if any employers will be fined at this point," said Louis F. Nardi, assistant district director for investigations.
Around the market, several merchants said they welcomed the raid. The hiring of illegal aliens is common knowledge, but rarely talked about, they said.
"This means more jobs for people who live in Baltimore, which is good for us," said Benita Ford, a salesperson at the Mount Olympus food stand, which was not raided.
At an earlier morning raid at Donut Delight Inc., the manager was able to produce proper documents for most of his employees.
"We have papers for every employee -- everybody is legal," said the manager, Mohammad Khan.
The sole employee arrested was a Salvadoran. Agents said she admitted purchasing phoney immigration records in Los Angeles and using them to get her job in Baltimore. Donut Delight will not be cited in that case.
Those charged with entering the country illegally may either choose to return to their country voluntarily or may request a deportation hearing.