Immigration agents arrested more than 100 people during a surprise raid at an Ohio landscaping business on Tuesday, the latest large-scale operation under the Trump administration’s renewed focus on worksite enforcement.
The operation took place at two locations of Corso’s Flower & Garden Center — one in the Lake Erie resort city of Sandusky and the other in the nearby town of Castalia.
Agents arrested 114 illegal aliens and “seized business documents at both locations,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesman Khaalid Walls told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
No criminal charges have been filed against Corso’s iteself, but the company is under investigation for immigration and identity fraud violations, authorities said. Among numerous charges, ICE is is “pursuing allegations” of harboring and unlawful employment of aliens, as well as aggravated identify theft and other identification fraud crimes, Walls told TheDCNF.
The raid is part of an effort by President Donald Trump’s administration to more closely scrutinize companies that hire illegal immigrants or foreign nationals without proper work authorization. ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan said in 2017 that he would make worksite enforcement investigations a priority, and the agency has since carried out several high-profile operations, including a nationwide audit of 7-Eleven stores that resulted in the arrest of 21 people in January.
More recently, ICE raided a slaughterhouse in eastern Tennessee in April, arresting nearly 100 people in what is believed to be the largest worksite enforcement operation in the state’s history. Ultimately, 54 of the 97 people encountered at the meatpacking plant were found to be illegal aliens and were detained for further immigration proceedings. No charges have yet been filed against the slaughterhouse’s owners.
The investigation into Corso’s began in October 2017, when the Border Patrol arrested a woman who had been providing stolen identity documents to illegal aliens who wanted to apply for jobs, the Associated Press reported. Using information obtained from the document vendor, investigators followed a paper trail to Corso’s, where they discovered several irregularities in the company’s employment files.
ICE examined 313 of Corso’s employee records and found that 123 were suspicious, according to Steve Francis, the head of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations unit in Detroit. The employees with suspect files are now being targeted for criminal charges of identity theft and tax evasion.
“We verified that a lot of U.S. persons were obviously unaware of this. It’s caused them a lot of hardship,” Francis told the AP. “It’s not one that we’re looking for strictly as a worksite immigration raid.”
Employer audits and investigations into workplace immigration violations have surged in fiscal year 2018, leading to criminal and civil arrests that far exceed the number recorded in the previous year, according to ICE statistics released earlier in May.
There were 2,282 employer audits — known as I-9 audits — opened between Oct. 1 and May 4, according to the ICE data. That was about a 60 percent increase from the 1,360 audits opened between October 2016 and September 2017. Total worksite investigations also spiked in the same period: ICE’s criminal investigators have opened more than 3,500 worksite investigations so far this fiscal year, compared to 1,716 for all of fiscal year 2017.
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