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10 Arrested at Submarine Base

Point Loma: Suspected illegal immigrants were doing painting work. Six found to be legal.

January 29, 2002|KEN ELLINGWOOD and TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SAN DIEGO — U.S. Border Patrol agents in San Diego arrested 10 suspected illegal immigrants who were working at the Point Loma Submarine Base, authorities said Monday.

The arrestees, whose names and nationalities were not immediately made available, were employed by a private firm that had been hired by a separate Navy contractor, officials said.

The workers were chipping and painting on a dry dock at the base and were not aboard a Navy ship, officials said. Navy officials said the border agents were undergoing training on the oiler Tippecanoe on Sunday when they noticed the workers and decided to check their immigration status.

Navy spokesman Cmdr. Dave Koontz said responsibility for checking the immigration status of civilian workers rests with the contractor, not the military. Before the workers came onto the facility, where nuclear-powered submarines are based, security guards checked identification cards against a list of names provided to the Navy by the contractor.

The use of private contractors on bases and ships is increasingly commonplace as the Navy tries to lift menial duties such as painting from enlisted personnel.

"The Point Loma security guys did their job by the book," Koontz said.

Authorities said the workers were employed by Coastal Coating Inc., a National City-based firm. Company officials were not available for comment.

Navy Cmdr. Al Green said that a check of records of the prime contractor, Southwest Marine, turned up documents indicating that six of the workers were in the country legally.

Special agents of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service were interviewing the arrestees, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for the INS in San Diego.

"Our special agents were called in to the case. They are interviewing them and will make a determination into whether any further investigation is warranted, or if there is special interest" in the case, Mack said.

Such an investigation could include looking into their employer, pursuing suspected terrorism links or examining whether a smuggling ring was involved in sneaking the suspects into the country, she said.

Border Patrol spokesman Merv Mason said he did not have information on the nationalities of the detainees.

He said officers involved in the arrests were not immediately available to provide details on the incident.

"We don't have specifics as the hows and whys of the situation. It's an ongoing investigation," Mason said.

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