Video: Employers of undocumented workers targeted

By Pete Williams Justice correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/19/2006 7:04:46 PM ET 2006-04-19T23:04:46

With America engaged in a spirited debate over illegal immigration, the Homeland Security Department Wednesday launched a nationwide crackdown on employing illegal immigrations.  And this time, the targets weren’t just the workers themselves.

Police and federal agents moved in Wednesday morning at dozens of plants nationwide owned by a global manufacturing company called IFCO Systems, which supplies containers and pallets for shipping to some of the nation’s biggest retailers.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested suspected illegal immigrants at a facility in Houston—a scene repeated today at 40 other IFCO locations.

But federal officials say the main targets of the operation—months in the planning—are company officials, not just workers.

“We’re alleging, for the individuals that have been charged, that they knowingly assisted in the employment of illegal aliens and in some cases harbored illegal aliens,” says Immigration & Customs Enforcement’s Julie Myers.

For years, federal agents have conducted job site raids, arresting undocumented workers.  But employers were generally given fines.  Now, Homeland Security says it’s using laws traditionally directed against drug smugglers and organized crime.

Just last week, the owners of a chain of Baltimore restaurants pleaded guilty to money laundering for hiring illegal workers and were forced to give up over a million dollars in property and cars, including a Mercedes.

Advocates of tougher enforcement, like immigration enforcement advocate Dan Stein, say it’s an approach that’s long overdue.

“Folks need to stop looking at illegal immigration as some kind of charitable act, that employers are doing people a favor,” Stein says, “This is predatory human exploitation.  It should be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law.”

Homeland Security officials insist that today’s high profile operation was months in the planning and was not ginned up in response to the political crisis over immigration policy. 

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