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Hundreds seized in immagration raids


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration unveiled Thursday what it said is a new strategy aimed at companies employing illegal immigrants, illustrating it with a crackdown on the German-based firm IFCO Systems.

 

Law enforcement officials will "use all the tools we have, whether it be criminal enforcement or immigration laws to break the back" of businesses that exploit undocumented immigrants, said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at a news conference.

 

"We're looking at them in the same way we look at criminal organizations," he said.

 

Federal immigration authorities arrested nine people linked to IFCO Systems and rounded up more than 1,000 illegal immigrants in multistate raids, federal law enforcement officials said.

 

Among those arrested and charged in connection with the employment of immigrants are seven current and former managers and two lower-level employees of the company, said U.S. Attorney Glenn Suddaby.

 

IFCO is an industry leader in the manufacture of wooden pallets, crates and containers. The criminal complaint involving IFCO charges the seven managers with conspiracy to transport, harbor, and employ illegal immigrants for private gain.

 

Federal authorities checked a sample of 5,800 IFCO employee records last year and found that 53 percent had faulty Social Security numbers, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said.

 

"That is, they were using Social Security numbers of people that were dead, of children or just different individuals that did not work at IFCO," ICE chief Julie Myers told CNN.

 

"The Social Security Administration had written IFCO over 13 times and told them, 'Listen, You have a problem. You have over a thousand employees that have faulty Social Security numbers. And we consider that to be a big problem,'" said Myers. "And IFCO did not do anything about it."

 

A yearlong investigation revealed that IFCO managers had induced illegal aliens to work there, telling some to doctor W-2 tax forms and others that no documentation was needed at all, Myers said.

 

As public concern over illegal immigration has grown in recent months, federal law enforcement officials have sought to tighten enforcement of immigration laws, through criminal charges against those who employ illegal aliens. Those charges would include money laundering, alien harboring, illegal alien employment and wire fraud.

 

"We are turning away from focusing only on civil liability," Myers told CNN. "It used to be in these cases that they amounted mainly to a slap on the wrist or a small civil fine. We're now focusing on criminal cases and bringing as many criminal charges as we can when we find employers that blatantly violate worksite enforcement laws."

 

Asked if senior managers knew or should have known about the alleged violations, Myers said, "There's no allegation of that at this time. It's certainly an ongoing investigation. I will tell you, though, that we are troubled by some of the things that we've seen at IFCO."

 

She said the company is cooperating with the investigation.

 

At his press conference, Chertoff said that under the Secure Borders Initiative, law enforcement officials would detect and catch those who cross the border illegally; detain and return them to their home countries; and target those already in the United States. Of particular importance are illegal immigrant smuggling operations, which have become a multibillion dollar business.

 

In its 2007 budget request, the Department of Homeland Security is asking Congress for more money to expand its documentation verification system. The abuse of the Social Security system and its documents are a key challenge, Chertoff said.

 

Industries relating to critical infrastructure -- like transportation, nuclear power plants and national defense -- are among those being targeted, Chertoff said.

 

IFCO Systems, with more than 40 offices across the U.S., issued a statement late Wednesday acknowledging the federal action.

 

"IFCO Systems is proud to be an equal opportunity employer and is committed to creating a workplace free of discrimination," the company said. "It is our policy to comply with all federal and state employee requirements."

 

But the IFCO statement did not directly address the charges.

 

"Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials today conducted employee background checks at a number of IFCO facilities across the country. We are cooperating fully with representatives from ICE and hope to have this matter resolved as soon as possible," the statement said.

 

ICE officials said agents made more than a thousand arrests in nearly 40 locations including Houston; Cincinnati; Phoenix; and Albany, New York.

 

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Good - You must target the corporations that employ illegal labor - everytime a piece of legislation comes through the state that has some teeth to it, both sides quickly kill the paper - what currently exists isn't enforced and when it is, the penalties are usually fairly weak

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