Feds Block Citizenship of Suit Plaintiff


A blind computer expert who passed his citizenship test in ’04 recently won a suit forcing his background check’s completion.

The government began a last-ditch effort to deny citizenship for a
blind Palestinian computer whiz in Colorado who recently won a
lawsuit forcing the FBI to complete his long-stalled security
background check.

Homeland Security officials now have blocked Zuhair Mahd’s
three-year citizenship quest because he wouldn’t submit to
additional interviews after the FBI check was done, said Robert
Mather, Denver district director of U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services.

“We weren’t able to move forward with an approval process because
we didn’t have all the information we requested,” Mather said in
an interview.

This denial escalates a standoff that already had spun out of the
immigration system into federal court – where judges nationwide
increasingly face cases of citizenship applicants who passed tests
but still aren’t approved.

U.S. District Judge Walker Miller in Denver last week ordered the
government to prove why Mahd “should not be immediately
naturalized.” A hearing is set for Aug. 31.

Federal judges rarely grant citizenship. But U.S. law says
immigrants who pass citizenship tests must have their cases handled
in 120 days. Otherwise, applicants can go to court and ask judges
to decide.

Mahd, 33, who has been in the U.S. legally for 17 years, passed his
citizenship test in December 2004.

Born blind to Palestinian immigrants in Jordan, he came to the
country as a teenager with the help of U.S. officials. Today he
works for the University of Colorado helping a blind engineering
graduate student adapt.

He worked previously for IBM and on government contracts.

He said that he’s been forthcoming with immigration officials who
this year, long after their 120-day deadline, demanded that he
provide additional documents and submit to a videotaped interview.
At first, he refused but then in June complied and presented four
years’ worth of tax records, travel documents, employment data back
to 1998, and more. But he still refused to be interviewed,
according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and his
application was denied.

“They’re not entitled to the interview or the documents. The
documents were provided as a goodwill gesture,” Mahd said.

“They were going to deny (the application), no matter what I did
or didn’t do. All they are doing is buying time and splitting
hairs, and I don’t think that’s good for any of us.”

Miller on March 22 ordered the FBI to complete Mahd’s stalled
background check after Mahd filed a federal lawsuit on his own –
his first legal case.

This case set a regional precedent as the FBI grapples with a
growing backlog of 440,000 uncompleted background security checks,
which were instituted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to guard
against terrorism.

Prosecutors on Tuesday asked Miller to cancel this month’s hearing,
arguing that the government has obeyed his order.

Mahd’s application “has been denied,” U.S. attorney spokesman
Jeff Dorschner said. “He needs to now go through the process of
appealing that denial” with immigration officials.

Mahd said he would prefer to rely on Judge Miller in federal court.
Government officials “have broken a law, and they’re acting in a
vindictive manner,” Mahd said.

Adjusting to America in a New Land, New Challenges

Refugees from Myanmar, formerly barred from the U.S. for opposing the regime there, are settling in Denver. But they need help crossing a wide cultural gap.

Running shoeless and wading neck-deep through jungle rivers to
evade Myanmar’s military dictatorship enraged her.

But sitting in Denver’s jail for seven hours, hearing the sobs of a
cellmate and knowing only of a world where authorities torture and
kill prisoners, refugee Always Ways, 37, doubted that America would
be better.

“I just prayed I’d be released,” she said, speaking through an

Her detention – after police found her toddler son roaming as
village children do – illustrates the bewildering cross-cultural
challenge she and other tribal refugees from Myanmar face as they
adapt to an alien U.S. culture that revolves around technology and

After years of rejecting refugees from Myanmar out of concern they
supported terrorists, the U.S. government recently began resettling
thousands in cities nationwide – including about 200 in Denver.

This latest wave of newcomers who speak no English and need help
with everything from food stamps to riding buses has resettlement
agencies, on contract with the government, scrambling to meld the
traditional and modern. Denver is regarded as comfortable for
refugees based on experience with the Hmong, facilities such as the
Rocky Mountain Survivors Center and a robust economy.

Yet social workers here are hampered by a lack of interpreters who
speak Karen and other tribal languages.

Isolated from one another in scattered low-income housing, refugees
accustomed to cooking with charcoal and fetching water from streams
struggle with taps, electric stoves, and TV images of sex and

They’re told they can receive free food for 90 days, but wait for
weeks as caseworkers try to arrange these benefits. Job interviews
at hotels and casinos often stall on the language barrier. Doctors
facing refugees and their children often aren’t sure what they

One family fell deeply in debt after an auto dealer gave generous
financing for a fully loaded van. Children brace for
misunderstanding at schools. At one, teachers struggled just to
identify a girl awaiting class whom they wrongly assumed spoke

A father working in a foam factory was left brain-damaged after an

“My friend call me: ‘Help me! Help me!’ I go to the machine. The
machine hurt my head,” said Tar Pine, 51, now living in an Arvada
head-injury care facility with a dent in his skull.

Distraught to be raising three kids without him, Tar Pine’s wife,
Dah Doh Moo, 47, recently wrecked the family car. “I saw the red
light, but I didn’t remember to stop.”

Now she nurses a bruised chest, tries to counsel other refugees by
telephone and reminisces of her simpler days fighting Burmese
forces with a U.S.-made M-16 rifle as a member of the Karen National Liberation Army,
or KNLA.

“We just protect our Karen people. Never do any terrorism. … We
want Americans to know we are not terror people.”

Her mother, Bheir, 87, waters backyard garden vegetables, telling
stories of “crying every day” in what is now Myanmar during World
War II, when she helped British soldiers fighting Japanese

“I’ve been in trouble my whole life. It got better here in
America,” she said. “But a lot of problems here, too.”

For two decades, ethnic minority refugees from Texas-sized Myanmar
(population 48 million) have been fleeing to escape abuse, forced
labor, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and death at the
hands of the nation’s Chinese-backed military regime. Myanmar is
the name adopted by the current government, which suspended the
nation’s constitution in 1988, though the U.S. government and the
Karen still refer to the nation as Burma.

Congress last week voted to extend economic sanctions against

Bending post-9/11 laws

Today, hundreds of thousands of Karen and other refugees languish
in crowded camps just across the Myanmar-Thailand border.
International resettlement efforts began in 2005.

But U.S. officials at first rejected these refugees because of
provisions in the post-9/11 USA Patriot and Real ID Acts that deny
resettlement to those who helped armed groups. Myanmar has charged
that the KLNA and another group, which have been battling for
independence for almost 60 years, are responsible for terrorist
acts, including a pair of bus bombings in June that killed 27

A year ago, U.S. officials waived the rules and agreed to resettle
up to 15,000 even if they did support armed groups.

“Few people are suggesting that terrorists might lurk” among
refugees from this region, said Paul Stein, state refugee
coordinator in Colorado.

U.S. security officials “have gone a little bit overboard because
the definition of ‘terrorist group’ is so broad,” said Rachel
O’Hara, director of refugee resettlement and employment for the
U.S. Committee for Refugees, an advocacy group.

U.S. officials “have said the government of Burma is committing
atrocities, and yet we term those who fight that government
terrorists? It just doesn’t make any sense,” she said.

Bridging cultural chasm

For Always Ways and her five children, one of them a disabled
8-year-old boy, just leaving her apartment is scary.

First she got shaken down in the hall by a big man for money.

Then one day, when she went to talk with other refugees, police
picked up her 3-year-old, Tah Paw Kwa. He’d left the apartment and
was exploring other buildings. The officer handed her a ticket with
a court date Ways couldn’t comprehend. Children wander constantly
in her home village and Thai camps. Why not in Denver?

When she failed to show up in court, police came to arrest her with
handcuffs. Ways panicked, collapsed and was taken to an emergency
room – then jail.

A resettlement caseworker and members of a newly formed Colorado
Burma Roundtable Network negotiated her release.

Ways now laughs at her misunderstanding, embarrassed. The arrival
of her mother and sister last month may free her to study English
at the Emily Griffith Opportunity School.

Such cases consume de facto community leader Rocky Martin, 47, a
Karen-speaking sushi chef who escaped Myanmar a decade ago. He
translates for refugees, warns them about credit cards, escorts
them to emergency rooms and arranges gatherings at a church where
the Karen hold Christian services in downtown Denver.

“In jungle, we scared. … We were raped, tortured and killed
because the government people hate the Karen people,” Martin

“In the jungle, they can kill the Karen people. But they cannot
kill the soul,” he said. “Here in the United States, good place
to live. But we have to take care of our spiritual welfare. We have
to fight for our soul.”

New Paperwork Sought in Fight for Citizenship

A standoff between a blind Palestinian computer whiz seeking
citizenship and the government intensified Thursday when Homeland
Security officials asked him to submit additional tax, employment,
passport and other documents before the FBI completes a background

Zuhair Mahd refused, calling it unjustified legal fishing.

A federal judge last week ruled that the government has violated
federal rules in handling Mahd’s case and ordered FBI and
immigration officials to complete the process.

“There’s been no transparency in this process, and that’s what
scares me,” Mahd said after meeting with an immigration agent.

“I want to be forthcoming. I have nothing to hide. But I get
suspicious,” said Mahd, who has lived in the country legally for
17 years.

Federal officials said they have the right to investigate further.

Mahd’s case “certainly has been complicated” by his refusal to
submit more information, said Chris Bentley, spokesman for U.S.
Citizenship & Immigration Services, part of Homeland Security.

The order from U.S. District Judge Walker Miller gives the FBI 45
days to complete a background check and then 45 days for
immigration officials to make a decision.

Court records show Mahd passed an interview and written tests
required for citizenship in 2004. FBI agents later interviewed him

Federal law says immigrants who pass citizenship tests must be
granted citizenship in 120 days.

When Mahd’s quest for citizenship never moved forward, he finally
sued the government and won the order from Miller.

U.S. Attorney Troy Eid is weighing whether to appeal Miller’s

Closer to the Oath

Ruling may speed up FBI security checks for local Palestinian and other aspiring citizens.

A blind Palestinian computer whiz in Denver fought the FBI and
Department of Homeland Security without a lawyer – and won. Now his
case may help force the FBI to expedite background checks on
aspiring citizens.

U.S. District Judge Walker Miller has ordered the FBI to complete a
stalled background check within 45 days for Zuhair Mahd, 33, who
passed all U.S. citizenship tests in 2004 but still couldn’t get
sworn in.

Miller ruled that federal officials violated their own rules in
handling Mahd’s case. The order last week in Mahd’s self-filed
lawsuit set a regional precedent for dozens of similar lawsuits by
mostly Muslim citizenship applicants pending in federal court. It
adds to pressure from federal judges around the country who are
demanding that the FBI complete the security checks – instituted
after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to guard against terrorism – in a
timely manner. Court records show the FBI faces a growing backlog
of 440,000 uncompleted checks.

“I would hope I’ve inspired people to take their cases forward,
speak out, and realize they can trust the legal system and feel
vindicated,” Mahd said Wednesday at an apartment where he’s
staying in Aurora.

Immigrants often “don’t even know they can seek judicial relief”
when their applications are stalled, he said. Part of his
motivation was “wanting to be sure I’m not living an illusion in a
country that claims to be democratic but really isn’t.”

This was Mahd’s first legal case. Born totally blind to Palestinian
refugees in Jordan, Mahd endured poverty and rejection as a
teenager before finding a banker who, with the help of U.S.
officials, bought him a ticket to Boston. Mahd graduated from U.S.
schools, then pioneered Arabic text-to-speech software working for
IBM and as an independent contractor interested in government

FBI officials “respect the court’s ruling,” spokesman Paul
Bresson said from Washington. “We will continue to evaluate ways
to improve our ability to process these name checks in a more
expeditious manner.”

Delays are caused by “the sheer volume of names submitted” by
multiple government agencies – about 3 million a year, Bresson
said. “Every name is processed thoroughly. We have never
sacrificed security in any way.”

FBI could appeal ruling

Today, Madh plans to ride the bus to a hearing with immigration
officials that was scheduled before he won his lawsuit. Mary
Mischke, acting Denver district director for U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services, part of Homeland Security, had asked him to
present more “evidence,” including tax records, travel documents
and a driver’s license.

Mahd said he’s hoping the judge’s order will mean his citizenship
now will be approved.

But immigration officials “can’t do anything until we get a clear
record from the FBI,” immigration spokeswoman Maria Elena
Garcia-Upson said. “We owe that to the American public.”

Immigration officials “are reviewing” Judge Miller’s order,
Garcia-Upson said, declining to comment further.

U.S. Attorney Troy Eid in Colorado, whose office defended the FBI
and Homeland Security against Mahd, is weighing whether to appeal,
his spokesman Jeff Dorschner said.

Federal law says immigrants who pass citizenship tests must be
granted citizenship in 120 days. That’s the law Mahd cited in the
legal case he prepared on his home computer.

Court records show immigration officials twice asked the FBI to
complete Mahd’s case.

The system clearly is broken, and federal court orders like the one
in Denver should force “an improvement in security,” said Crystal
Williams, deputy director of the American Immigration Lawyers

“If there is something wrong with this guy, the judge has ordered
(FBI and immigration officials) to find out once and for all what
it is. If there isn’t anything wrong, then the FBI must clear him.

“Federal officials have let this build up, and it’s only going to
build up more if they don’t address it. The FBI needs more
resources to do these checks. And they need to focus them more.”

State Mobilizes to Fight Human Trafficking

Hundreds of police and social workers are on the alert for foreigners held against their will.

Colorado officials on Monday warned that the elusive problem of
human trafficking “is alive and well” in neighborhoods

And public-safety chiefs are mobilizing hundreds of police officers
and social workers to watch out for trafficked workers held against
their will.

Some of the 800 trained so far, under a $450,000 federal grant,
have begun using a network of on-call interpreters who speak
Korean, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish and can help identify
potential victims.

“This is a hidden, hideous, complex crime that is against civil
rights of people around the world,” said state Rep. Alice
Borodkin, D-Denver, leader of a task force scheduled to address
legislative committees today.

A task-force study completed this month refers to recent cases,
including a Denver police crackdown on Korean-run spas and the
conviction of an Aurora couple from Saudi Arabia who kept an
Indonesian woman as a slave.

Meanwhile, FBI agents in December finished two investigations of
farmworkers held against their will, FBI spokeswoman Rene
VonderHaar said.

“If we hear about it, we will work it,” she said.

The problem: Trafficking has proved hard to detect. Victims
typically fear retribution and clam up, experts say. Unlike
smuggling, trafficking involves confiscation of travel documents
and other coercion.

The U.S. State Department estimates 14,500 to 17,500 foreign
workers are brought into the country each year via trafficking –
part of a $9 billion global criminal trade exceeded only by illegal
arms and drug dealing.

A handful of traffickers are convicted each year under federal
laws. Colorado and 26 other states have passed anti-trafficking
laws of their own.

Now Colorado public-safety officials are training police officers
and others along Interstates 25 and 70 to treat foreign workers
they meet as possible victims.

A hotline run under federal contract by the Salvation Army is to
dispatch interpreters to help police.

Lakewood police Sgt. Bob Major and his special investigators tried
it out last month. A resident had tipped them that a massage parlor
might be holding women inside.

Major deployed undercover detectives. On their second visit, a
Chinese woman newly arrived from Arizona and a colleague offered
the detectives sex for an extra $40, Major said.

Beyond ending prostitution, the goal of police was “to see if we
could get them to cooperate on human trafficking.”

The police called for help. A Mandarin interpreter and an
immigration attorney arrived at police headquarters within three
hours and helped conduct an interview with the Chinese woman and a

If the women were coerced and turned on traffickers, the police
explained, they could be sheltered in a safehouse and issued
special visas to stay in the country under federal law.

Female supervisors from the spa arrived at police headquarters and
bailed them out of jail.

“We talk to a lot of these women. They tell us they’re here of
their own free will. But sometimes their families are threatened
back home,” Major said.

He and his detectives planned to use interpreters again when
dealing with possible victims, he said. “Our message: If you help
us, we will take care of you.”

New ICE Raid Snares 193

Federal agents forged ahead with their crackdown on employers who
hire illegal foreign workers – raiding 63 entertainment-eateries
around the country and arresting 193 janitors supplied by a
national cleaning contractor.

The raids on corporate-run chain restaurants – cultural icons
including ESPN Zone, Dave & Busters, and Hard Rock Cafe – netted
the arrest of 12 janitors in the Denver area, authorities announced

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents also arrested three
owners of the cleaning company – Nevada-based Rosenbaum-Cunningham
International Inc. – accusing them of evading $18 million in
payroll taxes and using the money to buy boats, vehicles,
racehorses, fancy homes and education for their kids.

If convicted, the owners – Florida residents – could face up to 10
years in prison and restitution to the government.

This case shows “how some employers try to beat the system and
their competition by hiring illegal workers,” said Jeff Copp, ICE
district chief based in Denver. “Bypassing immigration, tax and
labor laws are serious crimes that will be investigated and
prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The names, nationalities and locations of detained janitors weren’t
released. Immigrant-rights advocates urged ICE agents to ensure
humane treatment for families so that children returning from
school wouldn’t be alone. Colorado activists planned to gather
downtown at El Centro Humanitario para los Trabajadores on Thursday
night to pray for worker families and call for a moratorium on

The corporate-run restaurants that hired RCI to perform janitorial
services weren’t targeted.

“We’re looking for a new company for janitorial services,” ESPN
Zone spokeswoman Christine Baum said.

The Wednesday-Thursday crackdown, shortly before Congress debates
immigration, follows high-profile raids Dec. 12 that targeted
workers at Swift & Co. meatpacking plants in Colorado and five
other states.

ICE officials say they’re escalating worksite enforcement to remove
the jobs magnet that has drawn an estimated 8 million illegal
foreign workers.

“There are a number of industries … that hire illegal aliens
blatantly almost as part of their business practices,” ICE
spokesman Marc Raimondi said in Washington, D.C.

While companies that used RCI janitors weren’t targeted, all U.S.
companies ought to be checking their contractors, asking to review
worker documents, Raimondi said.

This won’t insulate companies but could help keep them on the right
side of the law, he said.

“Most businesses want to do the right thing,” he said.

Now immigration analysts, who are tracking recent raids, are
considering where continued robust immigration enforcement might

“What Americans will find is they don’t have as clean an
environment to munch their burgers and fries,” said Crystal
Williams, deputy director of the American Immigration Lawyers
Association, a pro-immigration group in Washington.

The eateries that employed RCI janitors “are going to find it hard
to replace the people who were removed,” Williams said. “There’s
a need for these workers.”

“As they do more raids, we will find people we take for granted,
who do work we don’t do, are bit by bit disappearing,” Williams
said. “If ICE keeps on enforcing, and Congress doesn’t do anything
to ensure there’s a legal flow of workers, we’re going to have
worker shortages in a lot of the service industries.”

Another possibility: Employers might have to pay higher wages.

“I don’t have any official numbers to draw from,” Colorado
Department of Labor and Employment senior economist Joseph Winter
said. “But if the raids are effective enough to dissuade
lower-priced workers from coming into the state, it may have some
effect on wages.”



Illegal immigrants employed by janitorial contractor
Rosenbaum-Cunningham International taken into custody


Business locations in 17 states and D.C. where raids took place


Workers arrested in Denver-area eateries ESPN Zone, Dave & Busters
and Hard Rock Cafe

Colo. Judge Scrutinizes Swift Raids

The government’s high-profile crackdown on alleged identity theft
by foreign workers at Swift meatpacking plants in Colorado and five
other states faces mounting challenges in court.

A federal judge in Denver on Friday ordered immigration officials
in Colorado to account for all workers detained and deported.

U.S. District Court Judge John Kane – noting “confusion on all
sides” as to the whereabouts, legal status and even identities of
detainees – also gave the government 48 hours to hold an
immigration bond hearing for any detained worker who has not
already had one.

And Kane said any workers who signed agreements to voluntarily
return to their home countries now must be allowed to withdraw that
agreement if they wish.

“The government is on notice that this court is monitoring its
actions” in handling detainees, Kane said at a court hearing

United Food and Commercial Workers union attorneys had filed a
petition contending that arrests in the raids violated workers’
constitutional due-process rights. Immigration officials deny

No federal criminal charges have been filed in Colorado, where 261
workers were arrested at Swift’s plant in Greeley.

Simultaneous raids at Swift plants in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska,
Texas and Utah led to 1,282 arrests overall. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement officials on Friday said 219 face state or
federal criminal charges.

At the court hearing in Denver, Kane told Justice Department
attorneys defending the government as well as lawyers representing
unions and workers to meet and discuss the shared challenge of
sorting out who is being held where.

ICE agents conducting the raids used “a very orderly process,”
said Mark Pestal, an assistant U.S. attorney in Colorado. “The
chaos is created because (workers) are using multiple names.”

Scared workers giving armed authorities false names likely is a
factor in the confusion, said John Bowen, chief counsel
representing the union.

Now the workers “are being held improperly,” with access to
lawyers impaired, Bowen said.

“We want to make sure these people have an opportunity to find out
what their rights are,” he said. “It is important to us that
Judge Kane has made it clear he intends to ensure the process works

After the raids, federal authorities bused workers to a compound
near Denver for questioning, then to various facilities around the
country. Detained workers are thought to be held at federal
immigration detention facilities in Aurora and El Paso, Texas.

Several claimed in affidavits that the raids left them scared,
uncertain about legal options and inclined to sign voluntary
departure agreements.

ICE agents addressed workers in Spanish. But workers, some of them
illiterate migrants who use indigenous languages as well as
Spanish, claimed in affidavits that they were unclear about what
was happening.

Swift Raid Detaineed Get Court Times Set

Meatpacking workers detained during last week’s federal raids began
facing immigration judges Tuesday in Colorado and five other

Some were released after relatives posted bond of at least $1,500.
In Colorado, Judge Donn Livingston saw 27 detainees at the regional
detention facility in Aurora and set court hearings where they are
to be informed of charges against them.

Meanwhile, a federal grand jury in Minnesota indicted 20 detained
workers on criminal-immigration offenses and charges related to
identity theft.

Now, the immigration authorities themselves – who last week stormed
six Swift & Co. plants in Greeley and other states based on
allegations that illegal workers stole U.S. identities to get jobs
– also are facing challenges in federal courts.

Labor-union leaders representing workers in Colorado have asked a
federal judge to release them, arguing that workers were mistreated
and denied access to lawyers.

The raids constituted “an outrageous abuse of police power,” and
the government’s criminal probe into identity theft “functioned as
the Trojan horse to effectuate an immigration raid,” said a
lawsuit filed by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local

U.S. District Judge John Kane has ordered immigrant detainees from
the Greeley plant to remain in his jurisdiction, but the union said
some had been taken out of state. Union officials said Kane on
Tuesday asked them to provide more details of their allegations.

Some 75 out of 260 workers detained in Greeley already have been
returned to Mexico.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have filed a
legal response saying detainees were told why they were arrested,
were allowed to use phones and were advised they could get legal

ICE officials routinely move detained immigrants around the country
to find beds.

U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo called Tuesday for more raids and urged the
government to target managers who hire illegal workers.

“This kind of enforcement action by ICE has been sorely missing
over the past decade, and I urge you to expand such operations to
other industries,” Tancredo, R-Colo., wrote in a letter to ICE
Assistant Secretary Julie Myers.

“Many in the agriculture industry prefer to use illegal labor
despite the availability of legal workers through the H-2A
(temporary worker) program, which as you know has no cap. I believe
an investigation would reveal that identity theft is rampant across
many sectors and industries, not only meatpacking,” Tancredo

And “it strains credulity,” he said, to suggest that so many
illegal workers at Swift “could be employed, in six plants,
without the company’s management being aware of it,” as the
company has claimed.

Employers Unscathed in Raids

New enforcement approach targets workers rather than companies


The flood from the border will continue unless government begins to hold companies accountable, say policy critics.

Homeland Security chiefs hailed last week’s raids on Swift & Co.
meatpacking plants as examples of newly aggressive work-site
enforcement against companies that rely on illegal foreign labor.

But the black-clad agents who stormed facilities in Colorado and in
five other states arrested only workers, leaving the managers who
hired them untouched. That’s increasingly the pattern in the
government’s new approach: targeting workers without holding
companies themselves accountable, as required by law, according to
government data and interviews with experts.

Fines against employers for hiring illegal workers have all but
ceased, data show, though authorities recently prosecuted a handful
of managers and executives successfully.

Until Congress demands a worker status-verification system and
enforcement that can really hold companies accountable, critics
contend, millions of job-seeking illegal immigrants can’t be

“It has become apparent how employers are complicit in this
illegal-immigration picture,” said Doris Meissner, chief of the
Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1993 to 2000, now a
senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute.

“In a case like (the one involving Swift) where you are just
arresting the workers, it demonstrates how inadequate current
employer enforcement really is in reducing the availability of
jobs. The plant is up and running again,” said Meissner.

No charges had been filed against Swift officials Friday in the
crackdown on alleged identity-theft crimes involving suspected
illegal workers at slaughterhouses in Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota,
Nebraska, Texas and Utah.

Some 1,300 workers were arrested, more than 100 for investigation
of possible criminal offenses. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
agents this weekend continued to question detainees, building a
case that federal prosecutors await.

The raids Tuesday brought total work-site enforcement arrests
nationwide to 4,383 this year – more than triple the 1,292 last

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff declared “a new
record this past year for work-site enforcement,” noting that more
than 700 of this year’s arrests were for investigation of criminal
immigration violations.

Yet the number of employers fined each year for hiring illegal
workers has plummeted from 1,023 in 1998 to only three in 2004, the
last year for which data were given.

“We’re not really doing fines anymore,” ICE spokesman Marc
Raimondi said in Washington, D.C.

Fines against companies “were almost seen as a cost of doing
business and were not seen as effective. We prefer to conduct
criminal investigations,” Raimondi said. “We’re having
unprecedented successes in conducting work-site enforcement investigations.”

On Thursday, two executives of a California fencebuilding company
pleaded guilty to hiring unauthorized workers.

In October, the president and two executives of two
temporary-labor companies pleaded guilty in Ohio to conspiring to
provide hundreds of illegal workers to an air cargo firm.

In July, officials at Kentucky-based corporations pleaded guilty
to immigration and money-laundering charges in an operation that
supplied illegal workers to Holiday Inn, Days Inn and other hotels
in Kentucky.

Also in July, Fischer Homes subcontractors pleaded guilty to
harboring illegal immigrants for construction work in Kentucky.

Two high-profile crackdowns this year included raids in Colorado,
yet those cases still are pending.

ICE officials have filed charges against seven officials of
Houston-based IFCO Systems North America, which supplied wooden
pallets. ICE agents arrested 1,187 IFCO workers nationwide after a
year-long probe that found more than half of IFCO’s workers in 2005
had invalid or mismatched Social Security numbers.

No information was available on the status of a case in which
dozens of suspected illegal workers for Hunt Building Co.
subcontractors were deported after raids at a military-housing
construction site near top-secret installations east of Denver.

The problem is that, despite a few exceptions, federal immigration
agents in general “aren’t doing the regular work of going after
the employers who hire illegal (workers). They’re trying for only
very spectacular things,” said Steve Camarota, research director
at the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that favors
tougher enforcement.

“Americans are harmed by this, the Americans who have to send
their kids to overcrowded schools because of illegal aliens, the
Americans who face the job competition, who tend to be the poorest,
least-educated and most vulnerable American workers. The Americans
who are uninsured and don’t get health care because of all the
illegal aliens who need it,” he said.

It’s now well accepted among immigration experts that jobs are the
magnet that draws illegal workers from low-income countries into
the United States.

But employers who hire illegal workers “should be punished,” said
Meissner, the former INS chief. But holding them fairly accountable
requires a better status-verification and ID system, she said.

“If you are really going to have employer enforcement work,
everybody who applies for work, including U.S. citizens, has to
have an ID with biometric information. I believe most employers
want a reliable system – on the condition that they also have
access to labor.”

Scores of Illegal Workers Deported

Lawyers and activists say detainees may have legal rights, but they don’t know who is being held or where.

Greeley – Federal agents deported scores of illegal workers
Thursday, continuing their crackdown on the alleged hijacking of
U.S. citizens’ identities at Swift & Co. meatpacking plants here
and around the country.

At a court hearing in Greeley, headquarters for Swift, five
shackled workers in orange jumpsuits stood as Weld County District
Judge Gilbert Gutierrez advised them through an interpreter of
forgery and criminal impersonation charges they face.

Nationwide, more than 100 workers now have been arrested for
investigation of criminal charges ranging from immigration
violations to identity-related offenses as a result of the 10-month federal probe.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials couldn’t give a
breakdown of suspected crimes, but they said arrests on criminal
charges will increase as agents interview more detainees, building
their case.

Total arrests in Swift plants around the country topped 1,300 – but
most were for routine administrative immigration violations.

“This was a major identity-theft scheme that was taken down. It used to be people would use fake IDs. These are IDs with real numbers. Additional criminal charges will be forthcoming,” ICE spokesman Jeff Dishart said in

Swift officials who employed the workers at plants in Colorado,
Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Texas and Utah have not been charged,
Dishart said. Whether Swift will face any charges in this case “is
hard to say. The investigation continues,” he said.

Meanwhile, immigration attorneys, religious groups and labor-union leaders lambasted ICE for causing unnecessary suffering. They
complained that lawyers interested in representing detained workers
who may have legal rights haven’t been able to learn who is being
held or where.

ICE agents have whisked detainees to various federal and county
jails that cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security. Many
have been returned to Mexico and other home countries under a
procedure known as voluntary departure.

“Perhaps the biggest tragedy is that many of the immigrants may
have felt pressured into signing papers, waiving their rights, and
may be in the process of being returned before they ever had a
chance to consult with a lawyer,” said Donna Lipinski, a
spokeswoman for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, a
pro-immigration advocacy group in Washington.

A Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network delegation visited the
regional Homeland Security detention center in Aurora and learned
at least 80 detainees at that facility had been sent out of the
country, said Kim Salinas, a Fort Collins-based immigration
attorney who participated.

Some detainees in Colorado were bused through the mountains west of
Denver to county jails in Salida and Fairplay that are approved to
hold immigrants when the federal facility is full.

Federal agents hauled in 62 workers from Swift to the Park County
jail in Fairplay, then took 38 of them away again before noon
Wednesday and the rest on Thursday, Park County Attorney Steve
Groome said. “We have no idea where they were going,” Groome
said. “We had to do some moving, but everybody had a bed. A lot of
them were picked up before they were processed.”

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 lawyers “can’t serve
our members, can’t provide them with legal counsel, because we
don’t know where they are,” said Dave Minshall, spokesman for the

Tuesday’s raid at the Greeley plant was overblown for a case that
led to 11 criminal arrests, Minshall said. ICE officials “brought
in a battalion – shotguns, bulletproof vests, snipers on a roof –
for 11 people? … Identity theft is a terrible thing. But 11

ICE officials defended their actions, asking for patience as agents
go about interviewing detainees as carefully as possible, gathering

“We don’t have 1,300 people to interview each of the people who
were arrested. We have a limited number of people, so the
processing takes longer than a couple hours,” ICE regional
spokesman Carl Rusnok said.

Detainees “will be able to get that legal access as soon as the
processing is complete.” They also have access to telephones “as
long as they pay for long distance,” he said.

Reality hit hard for the first detainees moving into courts.

In the Weld County courtroom, tears trickled down Karina Bartolo’s
face as she spotted her father Cirilo Bartolo in the crowd.

He’d heard from her once after she was arrested Tuesday during work
at the meat plant. She’d said she was surrounded by mothers crying
for their kids.

On Thursday, his daughter and the other four defendants asked Judge
Gutierrez for free legal representation. He set bail at $30,000

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput sent out a letter concerning the
raids late Thursday.

“These kinds of raids do not and cannot fix our broken immigration
system. In some ways, they only aggravate our national confusion
over immigration policy. Our country needs comprehensive
immigration reform, and we need it immediately,” Chaput wrote in
the letter, sent to pastors across northern Colorado.

“Maria of Guadalupe told us that she came to hear and remedy all
of our sorrows. I ask her today to intercede for all our immigrant
families, especially those that have been broken apart by these

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