SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - U.S. police arrested nine illegal immigrants working for a contractor at a California military base on Thursday, in an operation underscoring a threat to national security from fake identity documents, authorities said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in San Diego said the employees worked for a contractor at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, and had used fake permanent residency cards obtained on a thriving black market in the city to gain work.
The operation was the latest in an ongoing sweep by ICE that has discovered more than 850 undocumented workers using fake identity cards to work at sensitive military bases and airports in San Diego County.
“It is a national security issue as (the companies) get access to the base, and to sensitive installations and ships” using the documents, said Fernando Carvajal, a supervisory special agent with ICE in San Diego.
The operation comes as U.S. immigration police have stepped up workplace enforcement in recent months across the United States, where some 10-12 million undocumented immigrants live and work in the shadows.
The arrested employees were all Mexican nationals working for Classic Party Rentals, an events-management firm that has access to the base, one of a dozen or so military installations in the San Diego area.
The operation by ICE that began in 2003 has combed through employment records of some 1,300 contractors employed at bases in the area, and revealed undocumented immigrants working everywhere from fast-food restaurants to paint shops at Naval shipyards.
Immigration is a hot political topic in the United States. President George W. Bush and lawmakers are deadlocked over how to deal with the nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants living and working throughout the country.
Earlier this month Bush proposed introducing a “tamper proof” identity document for workers, as part of a broader overhaul that included plans for a guest worker program and tougher border enforcement.
Investigators said the raid in San Diego disclosed a thriving black market for fraudulent identity papers used by millions of undocumented workers to obtain jobs.
Carvajal said immigrants bought fake permanent residency cards and social security documents produced at scores of so-called “document mills” across San Diego as a package for between $70 and $120.
Crafted using digital scanners, computers and laminators, the fake documents are widely accepted by employers, including some contractors at sensitive military bases, as sufficient guarantee of the employee’s identity.
“The law says that they (the contractors) don’t need to scrutinize them at all ... they just accept what’s presented to them,” Carvajal said.
“Any new document that the government comes out with, it’s readily and easily reproduced, and it’s for sale within a couple of weeks,” he added.