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9 Seized in INS Sweep at San Diego Airport

April 12, 2002|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Nine workers with access to restricted areas at Lindbergh Field, the city's international airport, were arrested this week by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service on a variety of immigration charges as part of a national enforcement effort prompted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Four of the nine were illegal immigrants. The other five were foreign nationals with criminal records for drugs, domestic violence or theft. The criminal convictions, which were not disclosed on employment applications, could result in deportation, the INS said.

Hundreds of workers at airports across the country have been arrested in recent weeks under an INS crackdown called Operation Tarmac.

The nine Lindbergh Field workers were employed by private firms hired by the airport. None were employees of the Unified Port District of San Diego, the public agency that owns and controls the airport on the edge of downtown San Diego.

"There is no indication that any of the nine has any ties to terrorist groups," said INS spokeswoman Lauren Mack.

INS agents reviewed employment records of 1,568 employees from 87 companies that provide services at the airport.

Under a 1986 federal law, employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants face fines and possible criminal prosecution. But employers complain that their ability to detect fraudulent applications is limited.

Steve Shultz, spokesman for the port district, said all airport workers are screened by the agency. "Because we are not a federal agency, we don't have the same power to dig as deeply into people's backgrounds as the INS," he said.

The nine worked for companies providing food delivery, janitorial service and cargo assistance. Of the nine, three have been charged with immigration offenses; the others face probable deportation.

Lindbergh Field had one of the smallest number of workers apprehended of any of the airports targeted by the INS. At Logan International Airport in Boston, where terrorists hijacked two planes used in the Sept. 11 attacks, 20 workers were apprehended two weeks ago on immigration violations.

As part of the federal takeover of airport security, a retired Marine general has been selected to head security at Lindbergh Field.

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