U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have arrested 60 illegal aliens working as contract employees at a dozen critical infrastructure sites nationwide, including seven petrochemical refineries, three power plants, a national air cargo facility and a pipeline company.
There was no evidence that any of them had terrorist ties or were engaged in a terrorist plot, although they had access to sensitive critical infrastructure locations and posed a serious homeland security threat, said Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, who heads ICE.
All the illegal aliens arrested were employed by Brock Enterprises, a company in Beaumont, Texas, that provides contract workers to facilities nationwide associated with the petrochemical industry, the nuclear industry and other energy sectors.
Mr. Garcia said Brock Enterprises is cooperating fully with ICE and is not a target of the ongoing investigation. He said investigators believe that many of the illegal workers presented fraudulent documents to Brock Enterprises in order to gain employment.
?Not only are their identities in question, but given their illegal status, these individuals are vulnerable to potential exploitation by terrorist and other criminal organizations,? Mr. Garcia said.
The arrests were made during raids on Wednesday and Thursday in California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.
Those arrested were from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. While detained on immigration violations, the Mexican nationals face immediate deportation unless charged with another crime, including re-entering the United States after deportation or the use of fraudulent documents to gain employment.
The others, if not charged with a second offense, generally would await an immigration hearing before being deported.
This week's raids culminated an ICE investigation that began in March when agents in Tampa, Fla., arrested six Brock employees, who were illegal aliens, at the Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant in Citrus, Fla.
Mr. Garcia said ICE agents in Tampa coordinated their investigation with agents in Houston and Beaumont, Texas, who performed an inspection of Brock Enterprises to review employment records. The ICE audit, he said, revealed discrepancies involving an unspecified number of Brock employees.
He said agents found that the employees were serving as contract workers at refineries, power plants and other critical infrastructure locations around the country.
Mr. Garcia said that over the past two years ? since ICE's creation in March 2003 ? the agency has conducted several nationwide operations designed to remove illegal aliens found working at some of the nation's most sensitive work sites, including airports, nuclear power plants, chemical plants and defense facilities.
At U.S. commercial airports alone, he said, ICE has identified more than 5,800 unauthorized airport workers, arrested more than 1,100 unauthorized alien workers, and obtained 775 criminal indictments.