As part of a growing crackdown on illegal immigrants working on the Eastern Shore, federal agents and state police yesterday raided a large Kent County nursery and arrested 86 employees suspected of illegally entering the United States.
In the past, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has targeted the Eastern Shore's poultry plants in their raids.
Late last month in a raid on two poultry plants, INS agents detained 107 suspected illegal immigrants, more than double the usual 50 arrests the agency makes in a typical year on the Eastern Shore.
Yesterday's raid targeted a different kind of business -- the 200-acre Angelica Nurseries Inc., located near Kennedyville in Kent County.
Shortly after noon, 33 INS agents, assisted by state troopers, raided Angelica Nurseries, said Benedict J. Ferro, director of the INS in Baltimore.
After checking the documents of employees, the agents arrested 86 people, including nine women, all of them employed as laborers at the nursery, Ferro said. With the exception of one person from Guatemala, all of the people arrested yesterday were Mexican citizens.
The suspected illegal immigrants were initially taken to the Easton Armory after their arrest. They were transferred last night to the Wicomico County Detention Center.
The detainees can either return voluntarily to their countries or they can opt for a deportation hearing, Ferro said. If they request a hearing, a bond will be set for their release.
Yesterday's raid provided added evidence that the Eastern Shore is a major destination for illegal immigrants and the smuggling rings that deliver them.
Last summer, INS agents arrested 42 suspected illegal immigrants at the Showell Poultry plant in Worcester County. In February, a van carrying 40 suspected illegal immigrants, which INS officials said appeared to be heading for poultry processing plants on the Delmarva Peninsula, crashed on the Bay Bridge.
Ferro would not say whether the owners of the nursery raided yesterday faced any sanctions for employing illegal immigrants.
He did say that Angelica Nurseries had never been raided before.
Bernard Kohl Jr., one of the owners of the family-run nursery, said last night that the family did not want to immediately discuss any specifics of the raid. "It came as a shock to us," he said.
Kohl said the nursery, a wholesale operation that has been located in Kent County since 1957, employs about 240 people.
Under the 1986 U.S. Immigration and Reformation and Control Act, employers must establish the identity of workers before hiring them.
If the recordkeeping does not exist or is absent, employers can be fined $100 to $1,000 per worker.
If the INS can prove that a company knowingly hired an illegal immigrant, the employer can be fined $250 to $10,000 per worker.
Pub Date: 9/18/96