- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2005

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents yesterday arrested 119 illegal aliens at the Petit Jean Poultry plant in Arkadelphia, Ark., after an audit of the company’s employee records and in response to a February identity theft conviction.

ICE spokesman Temple Black said those arrested were employed at the facility using the identities of U.S. citizens. He said agents were joined by 30 agents from other ICE regional offices in the arrests.

“ICE is committed to enforcing laws relating to identity theft, false claims to U.S. citizenship, and fraud,” said ICE agent Craig Griffin, who heads the agency’s Texarkana, Texas, field office, which oversaw the investigation. “We will arrest those who violate immigration employment laws and continue to restore integrity to the U.S. immigration system.”

Petit Jean Poultry is one of the largest employers in southwestern Arkansas, with 750 workers. Officials at the company did not returns calls yesterday for comment.

Mr. Black said that ICE agents in New Orleans conducted the employee audit on an administrative search warrant obtained from the U.S. District Court in Little Rock and that agents from the Little Rock Office of the Social Security Administration’s inspector general’s office assisted in the operation.

He said it has been determined that many aliens apprehended at Petit Jean illegally purchased U.S. citizen birth certificates and Social Security cards, and then used those documents to obtain identification cards bearing their photos from the state of Arkansas. The Arkansas identification cards were then used to obtain employment under the stolen identity.

Yesterday’s operation, Mr. Black said, stemmed from an investigation into the sale of U.S. citizen birth certificates and Social Security cards that culminated in the December 2004 arrest of a former Petit Jean employee. The employee, Maria Moreno of Arkadelphia, pleaded guilty in February to multiple counts of a federal indictment charging that she unlawfully sold identity documents and Social Security cards.

Mr. Black said $60,000 in cash was seized from Moreno as suspected proceeds of her unlawful activities.

He said that the arrested aliens were turned over to ICE Detention and Removal Operations and that information regarding fraudulently used Social Security numbers will be provided to the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service to unscramble the earning records of the affected U.S. citizen victims.

Of those arrested, he said, two were from Honduras, one from El Salvador, one from Guatemala, and the remaining 115 aliens were from Mexico — including 69 women, one of whom was a 14-year-old. Wages paid to the illegal aliens ranged from $6 to $6.80 per hour.

An investigation into the plant is continuing, Mr. Black said.

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