Workers charged in raid by INS

54 detained in city are suspected of being illegal immigrants

April 27, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Immigration and Naturalization Service agents arrested 54 suspected illegal immigrants from Central and South America during a raid yesterday at a Northwest Baltimore landscaping firm, said a spokesman for the federal agency.

About 25 agents, serving an administrative search warrant, raided RAR Landscaping Co. in the 5900 block of Oakleaf Ave. about 7: 15 a.m. and detained the male immigrants, who range in age from 16 to 35, said Barry Tang, INS assistant director for investigations in Baltimore.

The immigrants were charged with working without authorization, Tang said. He said no charges were brought against the landscaping firm, whose employment records are being investigated by the INS.

The immigrants are being held at the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup and the Wicomico County Detention Center in Salisbury.

"We began our investigation April 2 after an anonymous complaint about the company," Tang said. "It was the largest number picked up in Baltimore in recent memory."

Tang said INS agents questioned the immigrants and found they were being paid an average of $7.50 an hour. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median hourly wage for a landscaper-gardener in Maryland as $8.54 an hour.

Most of the immigrants arrested yesterday lived in Fells Point in Southeast Baltimore and in Brooklyn in southern Baltimore, Tang said.

A spokesman for RAR Landscaping said he had no comment about the raid and investigation.

The INS investigation of the landscaping firm is aimed at its hiring practices to determine if its owner violated immigration hiring laws.

During the raid that lasted about two hours, the immigrants were handcuffed and transported in federal trucks to INS headquarters on Caton Avenue, where they were charged. In the afternoon, they were taken to the two detention centers.

Tang said three of the immigrants are minors. According to INS records, 31 are from Mexico, eight from Ecuador, 11 from the Honduras, and two each from El Salvador and Guatemala.

As of last year, 44,000 illegal immigrants were in Maryland, the INS estimated.

Tang said many of the immigrants might be eligible for voluntary return to their country of origin. Others might have help available to them through federal regulations published in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. He said none of those arrested yesterday was in Baltimore as the result of a hardship suffered in that storm.

The INS said employers who intentionally hire or continue to employ immigrants without work authorization papers may be fined or criminally prosecuted. The fines begin at $100 per alien for paperwork violations. For hiring violations, fines range from $250 to $2,000 per alien for the first offense.

In recent raids in Maryland, INS agents arrested 11 suspected illegal immigrants at Fort Meade, where they were working on renovation projects, March 17; and 46, who were working at a Chestertown poultry processing plant, March 19.

On March 31, INS agents arrested 19 suspected illegal Mexican immigrants at Baltimore-Washington International Airport as they disembarked a flight from Pittsburgh.

Pub Date: 4/27/99

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