55 Illegal Immigrants Arrested at Dulles Site
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Federal authorities arrested 55 illegal immigrants yesterday at a construction site on Dulles International Airport grounds, the latest in a string of post-Sept. 11 raids at locations the government considers vulnerable to security threats.
The workers, all Latin American men employed by two construction companies, worked in a secured area on airport property, where as many as 2,000 laborers work each day on building projects that include a planned airport train system and a new runway, officials said.
The arrests took place early yesterday as the yellow school buses ferrying workers from a parking lot to the construction site stopped at a security checkpoint on the edge of airport property. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who were waiting checked their work and immigration documents, and those whose documents did not hold up were handcuffed and transported to an Alexandria field office for questioning, ICE spokesman Dean Boyd said.
The arrests, authorities said, are part of a government campaign to root out illegal workers at "critical infrastructure" sites nationwide that could be targeted by terrorists -- such as airports, shipyards, nuclear plants and military bases. ICE agents recently arrested 14 illegal workers at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head and 25 others at a Memphis chemical plant.
None of the workers arrested at Dulles or in Indian Head was involved in terrorist activity, authorities said. But they said all illegal immigrants can pose security risks.
"Not only are the identities of these individuals in question, but these aliens are also vulnerable to exploitation by terrorists and other criminals, given their illegal status in this country," ICE Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers said in a statement.
The Dulles effort comes as Congress debates plans to revamp the nation's immigration laws and authorities step up enforcement against illegal immigrants and employers. In April, agents arrested seven current and former managers and more than 1,100 workers for pallet-producer Ifco Systems North America Inc.
Also yesterday, authorities announced a nationwide roundup of nearly 2,200 illegal immigrants, many with histories of criminal violence. More than 800 of those arrested have been deported, and the rest are awaiting removal from the country, authorities said. About half have criminal records, including 146 with convictions for sexually assaulting juveniles. Those include a District man, identified by authorities as Wilbur Kuk, 24, a Mexican national. ICE officials said he has a record of arrests on charges of abduction, malicious wounding, robbery and unlawful use of a firearm.
Observers on both sides of the immigration debate have said the work-site raids amount to little more than a public relations effort. But the crackdown efforts have sent fear through immigrant communities and sparked widespread rumors of additional raids.
Word of the Dulles arrests spread slowly yesterday, in part because Spanish-language radio, a key source for such information, was focused on the World Cup soccer tournament. Still, immigrant groups condemned the action.
Authorities said they targeted employees of two companies, whose names they did not release. But several witnesses and workers at the site yesterday said most of those arrested were employed by Lane Construction Corp., a Connecticut company working on the airport train project. A Lane spokesman referred questions to Jay S. Cruickshank, vice president for legal and safety matters, who did not return calls.
No managers were arrested yesterday, but Boyd said the investigation will continue. To charge employers, authorities must prove they knowingly hired illegal immigrants, he said.