Employers duped by false documents, officials say

By Tim Ruzek

truzek@postbulletin.com

As part of a nationwide initiative, federal authorities arrested 21 illegal immigrants over two days last week in Austin, officials announced Tuesday.

All of the Austin detainees were adult men who were found at various residences in the city, said Tim Counts, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in the Twin Cities.

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Overall, 45 immigration-status violators, including nine fugitives who had received orders to be deported, were arrested from Dec. 5 to Dec. 8 in Albert Lea and Austin, according to an ICE news release.

The majority of them weren’t serious criminals, with many having convictions for driving while impaired, Counts said.

The arrests, part of ICE’s "Operation Return to Sender," were focused on fugitives, Counts said. While seeking the fugitives, 36 others were arrested after they were found to be in the United States illegally, he said.

"(The fugitives) had been caught in the country illegally, had been through due process, got ordered deported by a federal immigration judge," Counts said, "but, instead of leaving when the judge told them to or surrendering for deportation, they went into hiding."

Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi said her office will be following up on welfare-fraud issues that arose from the immigration arrests. The county jail wasn’t affected greatly by the arrests, she said, except for about 10 people taking up space for several hours each of the two days before being driven away in a van.

Austin police helped ICE officers Thursday and Friday to find addresses, Police Chief Paul Philipp said.

The large number of people arrested in the ICE operation, Philipp said, was a first in Austin to that degree. The chief said he thinks the federal agency has redone its organization and operations.

The fugitives arrested last week will be deported as soon as possible, Counts said. The other 36 likely will begin deportation proceedings, he said, which could lead to various outcomes.

In Austin, several of the people arrested were employees at Quality Pork Processors, said Counts, who declined to list the employers for all of those arrested. Some of the QPP workers had obtained Texas birth certificates and falsely claimed to be U.S. citizens, he said.

None of the immigrants’ employers, including QPP, are in trouble, Counts said. The employers were duped by false documents and identifications, he added.

A phone message left Tuesday afternoon with QPP wasn’t returned as of this morning.

The last major bust of illegal immigrants in the Austin area occurred in March 2005 when federal, state and local authorities arrested 17 illegal Mexican immigrants in rural Mower County. They were packed into an extended-cab pickup while traveling east on Interstate 90 near Dexter.

The group — including 12 men, four women and a boy — was suspected to be part of a ring smuggling people into the country illegally.