- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Homeland Security Department arrested 57 illegal immigrants last month who were working at airports and other risk-sensitive facilities across the nation, underscoring concerns that lax employment background checks are leaving a security breach for terrorists to exploit.

In one example, a Peruvian using a fake Social Security card he bought for $70 on a soccer field was hired as an airplane mechanic in Greensboro, N.C., according to court documents. In another, a Florida power plant was alerted to a Mexican working at its nuclear facility only after being tipped off by labor union employees, company officials said.

None of those arrested appeared to have terrorism ties. Nearly all used fraudulent or altered driver’s licenses and Social Security cards to obtain security clearances. All worked in security-sensitive areas — whether beyond passenger screening checkpoints at airports or in close proximity to nuclear reactors — federal authorities say.

“These individuals pose potential vulnerabilities,” said Marcy M. Forman, director of the investigations office at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an arm of the Homeland Security Department. “Because many of them have utilized fraudulent documents, we don’t know who they are.”

As many as 11 million illegal immigrants live in the United States, says a study by the Pew Hispanic Center, a private research group.

The U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 1.1 million illegal immigrants last year. Thousands more have been arrested or removed from their jobs since the September 11 attacks, which triggered closer government scrutiny of hiring practices at potential target buildings.

It is not always clear whom to blame for illegal immigrants’ apparent ease in slipping through gaps in security screening systems. An interim department plan to protect critical infrastructure offers only vague guidance for businesses wishing to adopt employee security clearance programs.

Hiring illegal workers at secure facilities likely will continue until the government standardizes the employee screening process, said P.J. Crowley, a Clinton administration national security aide and analyst at the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group.

“Most of these people do not pose security risks per se, but the illegal immigrant today could be someone with nefarious goals tomorrow,” Mr. Crowley said.

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