Local News

Seven Plead Guilty In Undocumented Workers Case

Posted July 7, 2005 6:18 a.m. EDT

— Seven undocumented workers caught working on an Air Force Base pleaded guilty to immigration charges in federal court Thursday. Plus, there is new information about the companies that employed the workers.

The group of men was taken into custody Wednesday as they reported for work at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Some of the workers were hired by subcontractors to Parsons Evergreene, LLC, a contractor for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Other sub-contractors were cited in connection with the workers -- Power Design Inc. out of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Jose Martinez of Garner. Both of those companies will have to have the documents of all of their employees inspected by federal agents.

The U.S. Attorney's office is suggesting a plea deal, where the undocumented workers get time served and move to deportation hearings.

Initially, authorities placed 49 workers, which included two juveniles, into custody, but six of the men were later released. Authorities found most overstayed their visas or had some sort of temporary protective status. They face charges of illegally entering the country and producing false documents.

In court Thursday, Federal Court Judge Terrence Boyle raised concerns that the suspected illegal immigrants did not have attorneys or understand the charges against them when they arrived in court. Boyle said the court proceeding would move slowly until he is reassured that the case is handled properly.

Immigration officials said some of the workers used counterfeit social security and green cards to get employment. They said the fact that they used those documents to get on a military base is a security breach.

Friends of the detainees said the men do not pose a security threat. Department of Defense officials agree, but said their ability to use fake documents to get onto a military base makes them the target.

"What would stop the people who want to do us harm?" asked Frank Crocco, a spokesman for the Department of Defense. "When this information comes to us, we have to act on it and follow it through the system."

Immigration officials said they are now targeting what they call "places of critical infrastructure." While they admit illegal immigrants are working all across the state, they are focusing on nuclear power plants and military bases.

But one advocacy group said it believes Wednesday's arrests were made for political reasons, not national security. El Pueblo spokeswoman Andrea Bazan Manson said arrests like these just hurt the economy.

"We need workers to do certain jobs," she said. "Those jobs are not being filled by the labor supply we have in this state and this country."


Kelly Gardner