19 men held after INS raid Agents got tip about workers at academy

October 31, 1997|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Nineteen suspected illegal immigrants working on a $25 million renovation of Bancroft Hall at the Naval Academy were arrested yesterday by federal agents in an early morning raid in Annapolis.

Agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service arrested six Salvadorans, six Guatemalans, three Hondurans, three Filipinos and a Mexican in the raid at 6 a.m. on contractors and subcontractors at the Annapolis campus.

The investigation that led to the raid began in response to a tip from academy sources, an INS spokesman said.

The number of illegal immigrants arrested in Maryland has increased in recent years because of the high demand for low-wage workers, the INS spokesman said. Last year, 430 undocumented workers were arrested. This year 480 have been arrested.

"I am concerned with what appears in this operation to be a new level for illegally employed aliens in this area," said Benedict J. Ferro, Baltimore district director for INS.

"The fact that such persons would be bold enough to take illegal employment on a government facility is very disturbing," he said.

With a "dramatic increase" in construction on military bases across the country, a joint federal task force was started last year to review the status of workers contracted for military construction sites, said John J. Ingham, an INS spokesman in Baltimore. The task force, called Operation VICEGRIP, includes the INS, Naval Criminal Investigative Services, the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor and FBI.

The raid yesterday, as well as others earlier at Quantico Marine Corps Reservation in Virginia and Bolling Air Force Base and Washington Navy Yard, both in Washington, D.C., stemmed from tips to the task force.

The investigation of Whiting-Turner Construction Co., the Baltimore-based primary contractor on the academy job, and several subcontractors continues, INS officials said. None of the detained workers are employees of the Navy.

Whiting-Turner officials, reached by telephone, refused to comment.

Academy officials said the job is one of several multimillion-dollar contracts that were awarded to Whiting-Turner as part of a continuing renovation project at Bancroft Hall, the dormitory where all 4,000 midshipmen live. Three of the eight wings in the hall have been renovated by the company, which will also renovate the other wings, said academy spokesman Capt. Tom Jurkowsky.

"We wouldn't keep awarding them contracts if we weren't pleased with their work," said Jurkowsky, who could not recall any trouble with the company in the past few years. "But we are fully cooperating with the INS."

The workers arrested yesterday -- all men, between the ages of 24 and 50 -- were making about $8 to $16 an hour, Ingham said. They were being held in lieu of $5,000 bail each at Wicomico

County Detention Center in quarters set up for the INS.

They will be taken before a federal immigration judge within the next few weeks as the first step in proceedings that could lead to deportation, Ingham said.

It was unclear yesterday whether any of the employers would be charged with violating immigration laws. Fines for knowingly hiring an unauthorized worker range from $100 to $2,000 per worker.

The INS estimates that 44,000 illegal immigrants live in Maryland.

Pub Date: 10/31/97

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