27 Md. restaurants fined as result of INS raids Crackdown continues on illegal immigrants

August 27, 1996|By Scott Higham | Scott Higham,SUN STAFF

In a continuing crackdown on a growing problem in Maryland, 27 restaurants have been fined more than $154,000 for putting illegal immigrants on their payrolls, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service announced yesterday.

Most of the restaurants are located in the Washington suburbs; one is in Annapolis. Immigration supervisors say they are examining similar cases and following numerous leads in areas around the state, including Baltimore City and Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

"We are focusing on the employers of illegal aliens," said Benedict J. Ferro, director of the INS in Baltimore. "The job we do at the southern border [with Mexico] is treating the symptom of the problem. But the problem is really caused by employers who hire illegal immigrants."

The fines announced yesterday came after INS agents discovered that restaurants -- most of them in Bethesda and Rockville -- were hiring workers without checking immigration papers, a violation of federal law. They also discovered that some restaurant owners were hiring workers who they knew had entered the United States illegally.

Under the 1986 U.S. Immigration Reformation and Control Act, employers must establish the identity and eligibility of workers before hiring them. If the recordkeeping does not exist or it is absent, employers can be fined from $100 to $1,000 per worker.

If INS agents can show that a company knowingly hired an illegal immigrant, the employer can be fined from $250 to $10,000 per worker. Employers who repeatedly violate the law can face felony prosecutions.

The most recent round of fines came after INS agents swept through the suburban restaurants in February following tips that the owners were hiring illegal immigrants. Agents arrested 75 workers in that raid.

INS agents say they are investigating tips involving other businesses around the state, such as the service industry and the construction trade.

"In Baltimore County, the landscaping and nursery businesses are particularly troublesome," Ferro said.

Earlier this year, INS agents conducted a series of highly publicized raids in and around Baltimore -- including one at a construction site at Fort Meade, and another at an asbestos removal project at Fallon Federal Building at Hopkins Plaza.

The raids and the fines are part of a broader INS strategy, immigration officials say. The agency is trying to deter employers by imposing highly publicized fines. They also are trying to send a signal to immigrants that it's not worth crossing the border in search of illegal work.

"This is our focus," Ferro said. "We are going to be visiting you if you fail to comply with the law."

Pub Date: 8/27/96

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