Arrests Target Use of Illegal Workers

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Federal authorities announced the arrests yesterday of four construction supervisors and 76 illegal immigrants at a Kentucky home-building company, continuing a promised government crackdown on employers that rely on illegal labor.

The arrests at Fischer Homes, a leading builder in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, followed the April 19 arrests of seven current and former managers and more than 1,100 workers for Ifco Systems North America Inc., a subsidiary of a Dutch manufacturer of plastic crates and wooden pallets.

The effort comes as Congress debates plans to overhaul the nation's immigration laws.

"We will continue to bring criminal actions against employers who are consistently harboring illegal aliens," said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

The four Fischer Homes managers were charged in a criminal complaint with aiding and abetting or harboring illegal immigrants for commercial or private financial gain. They face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Calls to company headquarters last night were not returned.

In recent weeks, Immigration and Customs Enforcement also has charged the owner of an Indiana stucco company in connection with an illegal employment scheme, won guilty pleas and the forfeiture of more than $1 million by operators of three Baltimore restaurants for conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants, and indicted two Ohio temporary-employment agencies and nine people on charges of hiring and harboring illegal immigrants.

The arrests have attracted employers' attention and sparked rumors of sweeps of illegal workers nationwide. But advocates on both sides of the debate said recent U.S. practice makes them skeptical that the arrests are more than a public relations effort.

From 1999 to 2004, the number of criminal employer cases referred for prosecution by the federal government fell from 182 to four, and the amount of fines collected dropped from $3.7 million to $212,000, according to a congressional report.

"These are cosmetic efforts to persuade Congress to pass an amnesty," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, an advocate of stronger workplace enforcement.

He was referring pejoratively to White House-backed Senate legislation that would create a guest-worker program for foreign nationals, offer a path to citizenship for illegal residents and toughen border enforcement.

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