EL PASO, Texas - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents on Friday arrested 28 Mexican nationals, including 25 who face felony charges, who were employed by an area landscaping business and nursery here.
Doña Ana County Sheriff's Department officers assisted in the operations.
About 7:15 a.m. on April 25, ICE special agents executed search warrants at Nash Gardens at 150 E. Sunset Road in West El Paso, and a business annex at 245 Derby in Sunland Park, N.M. Special agents also served a search warrant at 269 Fountain Road, the Nash Gardens business owner's residence.
The ongoing ICE investigation revealed that employees, all men, were using fraudulent documents or Social Security numbers that had not been assigned to them. The U.S. Attorney's Office has accepted 25 cases for prosecution for using a false document or Social Security number for employment purposes. If convicted, the men face a maximum punishment of five years in prison. In the meantime, they have been placed in U.S. Marshal Service custody and will be detained at the Otero County Jail awaiting their initial appearance in federal court next week.
The other three men of the 28 arrested face administrative charges for violating immigration laws. They were working without authorization in the United States.
ICE special agents identified workers who legally entered the country using a Laser Visa, but they violated the conditions of the entry document. A Laser Visa, or DSP-150, is a visitor's visa which does not allow aliens to work in the United States.
Effective worksite enforcement plays an important role in combating illegal immigration and in protecting our homeland. ICE has developed a comprehensive worksite enforcement strategy that promotes national security, protects critical infrastructure and ensures fair labor standards.
"These worksite enforcement operations send a strong deterrent message to employers who may consider hiring illegal aliens,â€ said Roberto G. Medina, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in El Paso. "These operations also help maintain the integrity of the immigration system."
Medina also said ICE especially targets individuals and businesses that take advantage of unauthorized workers by paying them substandard wages and depriving them of benefits.
ICE Worksite Enforcement Statistics:
In fiscal year (FY) 2007, ICE made 4,077 worksite-related arrests; an additional 863 people were arrested criminally related to worksite investigations. In criminal cases, ICE often pursues charges of harboring illegal aliens, money laundering and/or knowingly hiring illegal aliens. Harboring illegal aliens is a felony with a potential 10-year prison sentence. Money laundering is a felony with a potential 20-year prison sentence. ICE has found these criminal sanctions to be a far greater deterrent to illegal employment schemes than administrative sanctions.
In addition, ICE has dramatically increased the amounts of criminal fines and forfeiture over previous years of administrative fines alone. Administrative fines in FY 2001 totaled $1,095,734, $72,585 in FY 2002, $37,514 in FY 2003, $45,480 in FY 2004, and $6,500 in FY 2005. However, during the three quarters of FY 2007, ICE has obtained criminal fines, restitutions, and civil judgments in worksite enforcement investigations in excess of $30 million.