INS makes 28 arrests at Arundel job sites 4 illegal immigrants were building homes at Fort Meade

March 22, 1996|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

Signaling a growing problem in Maryland, federal agents yesterday arrested 28 illegal immigrants at construction sites in Anne Arundel County, four of them at Fort Meade, home to several sensitive intelligence-gathering operations.

Acting on a tip, agents with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Army's criminal investigative division began reviewing payroll records of workers at two construction sites at dawn yesterday.

At one site, where workers are building a housing development called the Groves at Piney Orchard along Riverscape Road, the agents arrested 24 illegal immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, INS officials said.

At another site on the Fort Meade Army base, where workers are building government town homes under a $24 million federal contract, the agents arrested four more illegal immigrants: two from Guatemala and two from El Salvador.

There is no indication that the immigrants at Fort Meade posed a security risk. They were working far from sensitive installations, such as the National Security Agency and the Navy Security Group, according to federal agents.

But agents say the arrests are another sign that Maryland is becoming a popular destination for foreign workers because construction and service industries in the state are doing well, and companies are willing to hire illegal workers to slash costs and increase profits.

Last month, agents found 40 illegal immigrants jammed into a rental truck on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge bound for the Eastern Shore. Two years ago, agents found 63 immigrants from China being held captive in a Prince George's County house.

"What we have seen in the past several years is more people entering across the southern border and making their way into Maryland," said Benedict J. Ferro, INS director for the Maryland district. "And there is a willingness by employers here to hire them. Without that willingness, we wouldn't have this problem."

Mr. Ferro said INS agents are tracking down the subcontractors who hired the immigrants. If the agents can prove the companies knew they were hiring illegal immigrants, they can be barred from receiving federal contracts and fined for breaking immigration laws.

Earned $13 an hour

For the illegal immigrants, working in Maryland was paying off. Agents say the immigrants were earning as much as $13 an hour, plus benefits, Mr. Ferro said.

"Our objective is to provide assistance to people who want to hire Americans," Mr. Ferro said. "We want to discourage companies who are hiring people illegally."

After interviewing the immigrants yesterday, INS agents planned transport them to the Howard County jail, where the agency leases jail space. The immigrants then will be given a choice: voluntarily leave the country or face deportation.

2 firms identified

The agents also started to track down subcontractors yesterday. So far, they have identified at least two firms, both of them based in Virginia.

"We are concentrating our efforts on the employers," said Louis F. Nardi, assistant INS director for the Maryland district and supervisor of yesterday's operation. "They usually know they are hiring people illegally."

Pub Date: 3/22/96

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