Local News

Customs Agents Arrest 36 Workers At Durham Manufacturing Company

Posted October 18, 2005 7:54 a.m. EDT

— United States immigration officials said Tuesday afternoon they had no reason to believe that dozens of illegal immigrants taken into custody were terrorists or had access to sensitive government information at a Durham company where they worked.

After several months of an investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested 36 employees at


, a semiconductor manufacturer that holds about $153 million worth of contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense.

ICE officials said the investigation was routine and that the agency normally goes to companies that have federal contracts to ensure workers are legal.

"We're trying to get out in front on this to try to deter, detect and identify prior to something happening," said Tom O'Connell, of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Authorities said a majority of the immigrants, from countries such as Israel, Pakistan, Mexico, Gambia and Kenya, worked for a subcontractor, GCA Services, which supplies a cleaning staff to Cree. Only 10 of the employees directly worked for Cree.

Cree managers said Tuesday that at no time was security compromised. A company representative said the workers apparently presented false documents and that hiring managers did not know the workers were illegal.

"It's probably one of the most stringent hiring processes and oversight and their internal security measures that I've even encountered doing this type of investigation," O'Connell said.

Immigration authorities said Cree fully cooperated with the investigation and would not be held responsible for the situation.

Three of the people arrested were released for humanitarian reasons, including two pregnant women and a man from Israel. They will have to appear in immigration court in Atlanta.

The rest of the immigrants will be held in custody in a Johnston County jail until they are deported.

Last month, Cree was awarded a $15 million contract to enhance military radar systems over the next five years for the Pentagon. Company managers said they did not believe Tuesday's arrests would hurt their relationship with the federal government.

O'Connell said immigration officials would continue to target companies that work with the federal government in their investigations.

"We want to try to get the biggest bang for our buck," he said. "So, I don't think a terrorist or someone who is going to do harm to the United States is going to work for McDonald's and extract sensitive information."

In July, ICE officials arrested nearly 50 workers at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base on immigration charges; in early October, agents arrested three people who taught foreign languages at a Special Operations command center at Fort Bragg.