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|2/15 Auburn, WA: 51 Held at Immigrant Raids at two Auburn Warehouses
Released 15 February 2007  By Casey McNerthney - Seattle Post-Intelligencer
2/15 Auburn, WA: 51 held as illegal workers at two Auburn warehouses
Thursday, February 15, 2007
By CASEY MCNERTHNEY
Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained 51 foreign nationals Wednesday morning believed to be working illegally at two Auburn warehouses.
The Customs-bonded warehouses, which were the subject of a federal civil inspection warrant, are operated by UPS Supply Chain Solutions. The majority of the workers taken into custody were temporary laborers, many of them working for Spherion Corp., which provides temporary employees for UPS Supply Chain Solutions.
The warehouses are secure, licensed storage facilities used to store imported goods. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents said they consider the warehouses critical buildings -- the same as airports and military bases -- because workers with access to such sites are vulnerable to exploitation by terrorists and other criminals.
"When individuals use fraudulent or false documents to gain employment, they hide their true identity and history," said Mike McCool, deputy special agent in charge of the Seattle's Immigration and Customs Enforcement office of investigations.
Those false identities pose a potential threat to the nation's commercial infrastructure, he said.
The workers were taken into custody after agents from Immigration and Custom Enforcement -- an agency within the Department of Homeland Security -- audited employment records of UPS Supply Chain Solutions and Spherion after a routine employment compliance exam by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
A spokeswoman said the audit revealed discrepancies that made agents believe a number of the company's employees used counterfeit identity, including fraudulent Social Security numbers, to obtain their jobs.
UPS spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg would not specify the company's relationship with Spherion, but said UPS is "cooperating with the authorities to find out more information" about the arrests.
A Spherion spokesman said the company adheres to all state and federal employment regulations and is "taking this matter very seriously."
The majority of the unauthorized workers, 44, were from Mexico, but the group included four foreign nationals from Guatemala and three from El Salvador. Agents are reviewing the backgrounds of each of the workers taken into custody to determine how to handle the individual cases, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said.
"I want to emphasize that there have been no charges filed against UPS, but this is an ongoing investigation," Dankers said. "Everyone apprehended today was apprehended on an administrative immigration violation, meaning that they were not picked up on criminal charges."
Dankers would not specify how long agents had investigated the warehouses, and did not know whether any of those arrested had criminal histories.
The arrested workers are being held at an immigration detention facility in Tacoma pending further proceedings.
They have the opportunity to appear before an immigration judge, but Dankers said some would likely return to their countries voluntarily.
During the 2006 federal fiscal year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 718 people nationwide on criminal charges in worksite investigations and apprehended another 3,667 illegal workers on immigration violations -- a more than threefold increase compared with 2005, the agency said.
P-I reporter Casey McNerthney can be reached at 206-448-8220 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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