Local News

State Senator: Undocumented Workers' Arrests Point To Bigger Problem

Posted May 23, 2006 8:34 a.m. EDT

— At least 15 undocumented workers were taken into custody Tuesday after an early-morning raid in west Raleigh that stemmed from a traffic accident along Interstate 40 on Monday.

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    Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers executed the raid on Tuesday at Carter-Finley Stadium where the workers had been hired by Miller & Long Construction to renovate the stadium, in a $19 million upgrade financed by the Wolfpack Club.

    Seven of those taken into custody were arrested and charged with having a false ID and with returning to the United States after being deported. Authorities plan to deport them.

    Authorities discovered the illegal hot spot while tracking three undocumented people who were involved in Monday's accident, which left a van on its side and tied up traffic for hours in the eastbound lanes.

    Although the driver, who the North Carolina Highway Patrol said caused the accident, fled the scene, troopers questioned the other three passengers. They did not have documents or identification to prove their citizenship and were released. The driver has not been located.

    State Rep. Russell Capps, R-Wake, said troopers should have not have allowed the undocumented men to leave the accident scene and said Monday's accident is an example of how state law enforcement should be more aggressive and involved in detaining and tracking illegal immigrants.

    "I am amazed that law enforcement's position is they cannot detain these people," Capps said.

    His staff is researching state law on traffic stops, Capps said, and if the law does not allow for undocumented people to be detained, he said he would introduce a bill to make it a law.

    "(It) would allow law enforcement to detain people that cannot be documented until we can find out where they're from and what they're about," Capps said. "We never know whether there's a terrorist involved; we don't know where that person comes from or what he's doing. If a person is undocumented, we need to find out before he's released."

    A spokesman for the Highway Patrol said troopers did the right thing by taking names and releasing the undocumented workers from the wreck scene.

    "Law enforcement officers have to be careful not to identify any person by their ethnicity (or) to point a finger at a wreck scene and say, 'They're illegal. We don't do that, that's profiling," said Lt. Everett Clendenin.

    "It's nice to sit back at home and say, 'They should've done this,' 'They should've done that,' but the bottom line is we have processes to follow and people have rights," Clendenin added.

    Where the line is between personal rights and Homeland Security is currently part of a nationwide debate on illegal immigration. State Sen. Hugh Webster, R-District 24, said Tuesday's arrests point to a larger problem.

    "With this acceptance of illegal conduct, conduct comes worse and worse things," Webster said.

    The North Carolina Department of Labor says immigration issues are not in its jurisdiction. It is not state law, but federal law, that prohibits employers from knowingly employing illegal workers, labor officials say.

    The federal government says it simply cannot be at every job site across the state, which means federal regulations are not often enforces. The federal government relies on employers to check for proper identification, which officials say can easily be falsified.

    "Things have to change in Washington," Gov. Mike Easley has said. "That's where the laws are written."

    But as state's wait for legislation and enforcement to be implemented, the immigration problem continues.

    "(You can) A: ignore it; B: you can try to deport 11 and 30 million people; or C: find some way for people to work toward citizenship," Easley has said.

    Mecklenburg County is the first municipality in the nation to test an expanded crackdown on illegal immigration. Homeland Security has allowed some deputies to start the deportation process for illegal immigrants. They have access to the U.S. immigration database and can quickly find out if a person is wanted by federal custom officials.

    One key benefit of the program is that it allows deputies to detain people on immigration violations until the issue can be resolved. The program may be expanded.