Suspected illegal workers arrested Federal agents acting on tip also investigate employers of the 11

January 21, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Eleven suspected illegal immigrants who were digging ditches and fixing mulch beds in Columbia were arrested yesterday morning in Oakland Mills village by federal agents.

Ten of the suspects were being questioned last night at the Baltimore office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, according to INS spokesman John Shallman.

A Mexican juvenile was released last night into the custody of local family members, while another juvenile was being held at the INS office, Shallman said.

Agents arrested 10 workers along Thunder Hill Road, south of Route 175, about 11 a.m., after receiving a tip about illegals in the area, Shallman said.

The 11th worker apparently was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Shallman said that as agents began assembling in a shopping mall parking lot east of Thunder Hill Road before the arrests, a man spotted the INS vehicles and tried to flee. He was pursued and arrested as a suspected Mexican illegal.

"It was unfortunate for him, I guess," Shallman said.

The suspects -- eight Mexicans, two Guatemalans and one Salvadoran -- were making about $7.50 an hour, Shallman said.

"This was a routine operation, about average for Howard County," Shallman said. "This will certainly not be our last one."

Six of the men were working for Chaparral Cable Inc. of Jessup, which installs underground cable and fiber optic lines; four were working for Sun Ventures Landscaping of Jessup; the man who fled from agents was working for the Brickman Group, a Pennsylvania-based landscaping firm.

In September, the INS said that the Brickman Group faced the possibility of a $50,000 fine for sloppy paperwork in the company's Columbia branch, which allegedly failed to document the backgrounds of about 50 workers.

Shallman said yesterday that the status of that action was not clear as the INS offers an appeal period, but the investigation into the companies involved in yesterday's raid is continuing.

The firms face a $2,000 fine if they knowingly hired illegal workers.

INS agents have arrested five other suspected illegals this month in Howard County, Shallman said.

The INS estimates that 44,000 illegal immigrants live in Maryland, but exact figures are impossible to obtain.

The number of foreign-born residents of Maryland rose 31 percent, to 412,000, between 1990 and 1996, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

That means that roughly one of six foreign-born residents who are not citizens is living here illegally.

Pub Date: 1/21/98

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