- The Washington Times - Monday, January 1, 2007

1,300 workers arrested in 6 states in identity-theft conspiracy probe

The National Association of Former Border Patrol Agents has “strongly endorsed” raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at Swift & Co. meatpacking plants in six states, saying businesses and the public are victimized by the use of fraudulent identification documents.

“This is not a new problem for Swift or for the meatpacking industry generally,” association President Kent Lundgren said. “For decades, illegal aliens have obtained employment in the industry, thereby displacing U.S. workers.”

ICE agents swept through the plants on Dec. 13, arresting nearly 1,300 illegal aliens as part of an investigation into an identity-theft conspiracy. The arrests were the culmination of a 10-month ICE investigation known as Operation Wagon Train that targeted workers at Swift plants in Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and Utah.

Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who heads ICE, called the use of phony documents by illegal aliens “a significant problem,” noting that instead of obtaining phony documents with fraudulent identities, illegal aliens are buying genuine documents and using the identities of unwitting U.S. citizens.

Mrs. Myers said that illegal workers at Swift had assumed the identities of others to circumvent employment-eligibility screening and that hundreds of illegal aliens used stolen Social Security cards and other identity documents to gain employment.

Mr. Lundgren said several former U.S. Border Patrol agents recall conducting operations with similar outcomes at Swift and other plants 25 years ago, noting they have since taken place regularly, with similar results.

“This action by ICE once more reveals clearly that the bad effects of illegal workers extend beyond cheap labor and the displacement of legal workers,” he said. “This case offers a strong argument for continuous, extensive enforcement operations against illegal aliens who have managed to obtain employment in the United States.”

Mr. Lundgren, a former Border Patrol assistant chief, said the ICE operation reflected the need to develop a secure Social Security card and a system for verification of eligibility for employment.

He also said the association could support a guest-worker program to let foreigners work in the United States if the program is limited, tightly controlled and available only to those who have entered the country legally. He said such a program could serve the national interest, although those foreign nationals who apply need to do so from outside the United States.

President Bush has pledged to join with Democrats this year to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a guest-worker program that his own party blocked last year. His Republican opponents have said they cannot stop such a bill from passing.

The Senate passed a broad immigration bill that included a guest-worker program and citizenship rights for some of the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens now in the United States. House Republicans blocked the bill, calling it an offer of amnesty. Instead, they forced through a bill to erect 698 miles of fences along the border with Mexico.

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