Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Federal authorities late last week detained and later released eight illegal aliens from Mexico who authorities said were acting suspiciously near a gate at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Officials said the illegals were detained Saturday morning near Gate D3, a Northwest Airlines gate, after federal air marshals noticed them gathered in the area with no carry-on luggage.

Dave Adams, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service, said the aliens dispersed, but then recongregated and attracted the air marshals’ attention.

The air marshals “observed some suspicious behavior,” Mr. Adams said. “They confronted these individuals with a Maryland Transportation Authority officer, interviewed them, and they admitted being in the U.S. illegally.”

The air marshals called officers with the Maryland Transportation Authority Police (MTAP) to assist them in interviewing the illegals, and one of the officers was able to converse with the group in Spanish, officials said.

“We were able to send one of our officers to the area who was bilingual and able to speak to the individuals,” said Cpl. Greg Prioleau, a spokesman for MTAP. “The officer confirmed [that they were illegal aliens] by speaking” to them.

Cpl. Prioleau said the air marshals then spoke with officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Baltimore, who made the call to release the illegals.

ICE officials said they were investigating possible connections between the illegals and a human-trafficking or human-smuggling operation, but would not comment on why they released the illegals.

“A Baltimore ICE agent was contacted by the Maryland Transportation Authority Police about eight suspected illegal aliens who had been detected at the Baltimore airport,” said Ernestine Fobbs, an ICE spokeswoman.

“The ICE agent took all the information provided by MTAP for a follow-up investigation, which is continuing.”

Ms. Fobbs and Mr. Adams said they did not know how the illegals gained access to the gate area and whether they arrived on an incoming plane.

Cpl. Prioleau said officials later determined that “no suspicious activity” had occurred.

The illegals’ release comes on the heels of a series of raids and rumored raids by immigration authorities in the District, Maryland and Virginia.

ICE agents on Thursday arrested 14 illegal aliens during an early-morning raid in Leesburg, Va. Ms. Fobbs said 12 of the illegals are in custody, and a mother and child have been released with orders to appear before an immigration judge.

Officials are also investigating whether those illegals are related to a smuggling operation.

Juan Carlos Ruiz, general coordinator of the National Capital Immigrant Coalition, said last week that he received more than 30 complaints about raids on families and day laborers in Virginia and that he had heard rumors of similar raids in the District and Maryland.

ICE officials said such raids did not occur.

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