Federal agents have arrested 61 immigrants allegedly working illegally on the Eastern Shore in a three-day crackdown that targeted restaurants, gift shops and food-processing plants.
The operation sent 20 Immigration and Naturalization Service special agents from the Baltimore office to the Eastern Shore. It began Tuesday in response to tips that illegal immigrants were working at stores and restaurants in Ocean City and at a processing plant in Chestertown, said John Shallman, an INS spokesman.
"I do think it points out the size of the problem of illegal employment in the state of Maryland," he said.
Over the past three days, immigration agents visited businesses, shops and stores and requested identification from workers they suspected of working illegally, Shallman said.
He said last night that 40 Guatemalan and Mexican nationals had been arrested Tuesday at the Chestertown Foods Inc. chicken-processing plant in Chestertown.
Shallman said that 16 of the 40 are juveniles and that investigators from the U.S. Department of Labor had been contacted about the possibility of charging the operators of the plant with violating federal child-labor laws.
Eleven immigrants were arrested Wednesday afternoon at two businesses in Ocean City, Shallman said. He said they are from El Salvador, Israel and Ireland and that most were sales clerks at Sunsations stores. The chain of gift stores has outlets throughout the resort.
A few others arrested Wednesday were kitchen workers at Moe's Seafood Warehouse in the 8200 block of Coastal Highway, he said.
A manager at the Sunsations store on First Street in Ocean City, where some of the immigrants were arrested Tuesday, said INS agents had been harassing workers at the store for three days, coming in repeatedly and asking the same workers for identification time after time.
"They came in three times in one day," he said. "I told them straight up to get out of my store."
Shallman said 10 more immigrants, from South America and Mongolia, were arrested yesterday while working in kitchens at restaurants in Ocean City. He did not identify the restaurants.
Officials and employees reached by telephone at the businesses declined to comment last night. Each of those arrested was being held in lieu of $5,000 bail at the Wicomico County Detention Center in special quarters set up at the jail for the INS.
They will be brought before a federal immigration judge within 10 days as the first step in proceedings that could lead to deportation, Shallman said.
He said last night that he was unsure whether any of the employers would be charged with violating immigration laws. Anyone who knowingly hires an unauthorized worker may be fined up to $2,000 per worker.
The INS estimates that 44,000 illegal immigrants live in Maryland, but exact figures could not be obtained.
Pub Date: 9/12/97