- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2000

India protests arrests

Indian Ambassador Naresh Chandra has protested the arrest of 40 Indian computer specialists who are accused of illegally working in the United States.

Mr. Chandra told Embassy Row yesterday that he was "saddened and disappointed" to learn on Sunday of the arrest last week of the Indian technicians at a San Antonio, Texas, Air Force base where they were working under a civilian contract.

He said they were handcuffed and "paraded" to jail "like common criminals" by agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

"Many were released after considerable humiliation," he said.

"We expect [such treatment] in other countries, but not in the United States," he added.

Thirteen were freed without charge but face possible deportation; two were released on personal recognizance bonds, and the others posted bail of $5,000 apiece, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

"The immigration service is sending a message. We're not going to tolerate companies or individuals who knowingly violate immigration law," Thomas Homan, INS assistant district director of criminal investigations, told the Express-News.

The INS, after a six-month investigation, accused the Indians of abusing their work visas. The agency said the visas allowed them to work for a company in Houston, not in San Antonio.

The switch of cities is a fraudulent act known as "body shopping," a practice under which a company illegally moves foreign workers around to other locations without federal government permission, according to the INS.

Two Houston firms, Frontier Consulting Inc. and Softech Consulting Inc., insist the Indians were employed legally and dispatched to San Antonio to work on a government computer contract at Randolf Air Force Base.

The Indian ambassador said his concern is making sure the Indian workers are properly represented and that the circumstances surrounding their arrest is investigated.

"We are not interested in shielding anyone," he said. "We simply want these good people to be treated decently."

He has assigned the Indian consul-general in Houston to the case and protested the arrests to the State Department, which has promised to investigate.

"The State Department is being very helpful," he said.

Blank check for Israel?

The U.S. ambassador to Israel is urging the Israeli government to scale down its requests for billions of dollars in U.S. aid as a price for peace with Syria.

"It's important that people be realistic about these things," Ambassador Martin Indyk told Israel's Channel 2 television this week.

Israel reportedly is seeking at least $17 billion to pay for its withdrawal from the occupied Golan Heights, captured from Syria in the 1967 war.

Some Israeli newspapers say the total request could move up to $65 billion.

"This is not just what we refer to in the states as a Christmas tree in which you can pile on more and more presents," the ambassador said.

"What we have heard in our consultations with Congress is that, if we are talking about a comprehensive peace that ends the Israel-Arab conflict, then I think the Congress and the American people will consider its worth," he added.

Sen. Arlen Specter, on a visit to Israel earlier this month, warned there will be no "blank check from the United States.

"An Israeli-Syrian peace treaty is important for the region and the world and also for the United States. But there's no blank check that's going to come out of the U.S. Treasury," said the Pennsylvania Republican, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Earlier this week, Mr. Indyk expressed hope for the resumption of the stalled talks between Israel and Syria.

"We remain hopeful because we believe that both sides are committed to achieving a comprehensive peace this year," he said, after presenting his diplomatic credentials to Israeli President Ezer Weizman.

"We are continuing to work with both parties, and we will expect to hear from both sides their responses to the approach we put forward," he added.

"There are ups and downs in any process, and Israeli-Syrian negotiations are not different from any other track in that regard."

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