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Immigration search nets 32 arrests at AMT
ARLINGTON Aerospace Manufacturing Technologies, Inc., saw 32 of its employees arrested by agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement the morning of June 26.
According to Lorie Dankers, a public affairs specialist with the Department of Homeland Security, agents served AMT with a federal civil search warrant, that authorized them to enter and inspect the premises, to locate workers who had committed administrative immigration violations.
The government's side
"This is part of an ongoing investigation that started with a tip from the public," said Dankers, who deemed AMT "critical infrastructure." The June 26 operation was part of ICE's work-site enforcement effort, focusing on critical infrastructure and security-sensitive sites.
AMT is a leading supplier of frame and interior parts for commercial and military aircraft, that provides many of the parts used in some of aviation's most popular airplanes, including the Boeing 737 and 777. The company is registered with the State Department's Director of Defense Trade Controls, which oversees the export and import of certain products that can be used for national defense purposes.
The group of unauthorized workers included foreign nationals from two countries, with 29 from Mexico and three from El Salvador.
All those arrested at AMT June 26 will be interviewed, fingerprinted and photographed by ICE agents and processed for removal from the United States. Information obtained during the interviews will assist the ICE in making decisions about whether to detain an individual or permit a conditional humanitarian release.
As a result of these interviews, five of the illegal workers have been released on humanitarian grounds, pending future immigration proceedings. The 27 workers remaining in ICE custody are being held at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, and none have bonded out yet. Of those 27, nine are female, 18 are male, two are from El Salvador and 25 are from Mexico.
"They'll be seeing an immigration judge, since Tacoma has an immigration court on-site," Dankers said. "From there, they'll receive a master calendar hearing and a merit hearing, the latter of which will determine whether they'll be allowed to remain in the country. It's separate from the ICE and is an administrative rather than a criminal process."
The June 26 enforcement action came after ICE agents audited the employment records of AMT. The audit revealed discrepancies, leading agents to believe that a small percentage of the company's employees used counterfeit documents to secure their jobs. As of press time, there was no evidence AMT was aware the arrested workers had used false credentials to secure their employment.
The company's side
AMT President and CEO Jerry Goodwin sought to highlight the positives in what he admitted is a difficult situation.
"We had an eventful morning," Goodwin said. "The authorities pulled up, served us with their warrant very politely, and checked the documentation of every single one of our employees. They told us that our records were very well-kept. We thought all of our employees were legal, but obviously, [the authorities] have information that they're not."
Goodwin estimated that AMT employs nearly 400 workers in Arlington, and that the arrested employees came from a mix of all of its departments. In addition to hiring new employees, he predicted that a number of AMT's remaining employees would have to work overtime to compensate for the lost employees.
"It's too preliminary to say how long that will last," Goodwin said. "We'll be meeting this afternoon and tomorrow, to evaluate what this will mean to us."
Goodwin reported that ICE agents had not informed him of any specific points of oversight that his company had committed.
"It's an absolute," Goodwin said. "Either these employees are legal or they aren't. All we can do is check that they have the proper documentation. It's almost discrimination if we don't hire someone just because we don't know if their documentation is falsified."
Goodwin lamented the loss.
"It's a sad day in AMT's history," Goodwin said. "These people were good workers who were well-respected. They all looked like good people, but to work for us, they have to be legal U.S. citizens, and that's the bottom line."
For more information
ICE has set up a phone number that family members of the arrested workers can call with questions about their relatives' detention status and removal process, at 206-553-5657.
To help employers ensure that they are building a legal workforce through voluntary partnerships with the government, the Department of Homeland Security has announced an initiative called the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers. IMAGE is designed to build cooperative relationships between government and businesses, to strengthen hiring practices, and to reduce unlawfully employing illegal aliens.
The initiative also seeks to accomplish greater industry compliance and corporate due diligence through enhanced federal training and education of employers. ICE strongly encourages employers to review the IMAGE program materials available at www.ICE.gov.