Federal immigration authorities Tuesday announced the arrests of eight employees of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the nation's largest public utility, for allegedly lacking authorization to work in the United States.
Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement made five arrests Tuesday at DWP headquarters. The arrests capped a yearlong joint review of the utility's hiring records that previously had resulted in the arrest of three other alleged unauthorized workers.
The workers, whose names were not released, were from Ethiopia, Nigeria, El Salvador, the Philippines and Mexico. They held a variety of positions at the DWP, which supplies Los Angeles with its water and electrical power.
All of them had initially entered the country legally, but several had visas that did not authorize them to work. One employee was on a student visa, one was on a visitor's visa, and one had applied for temporary protective status, said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for the immigration and customs agency.
Two of the workers were lawful permanent residents who had green cards, but they had serious criminal convictions that make them eligible for deportation, Kice said. One worker had been convicted of domestic violence; the other was a convicted sexual predator. A third worker, one of those previously arrested, had been convicted on weapons charges.
The probe is part of an ongoing effort by the federal agency to ensure that no employees with questionable credentials are working at critical facilities in the nation's infrastructure -- such as nuclear power plants, military installations, airports and seaports.
The DWP was included in that review because it controls the water supply for Los Angeles and oversees a vast system of reservoirs and aqueducts. There is no evidence that any of the arrested workers has terrorist ties, Kice said.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office welcomed the arrests.
"Mayor Villaraigosa has made the safety and security of the residents of Los Angeles his top priority and thanks the Department of Homeland Security for this joint effort," said Janelle Erickson, a spokeswoman for the mayor.
Villaraigosa recently was criticized by some residents for participating in mass demonstrations that demanded a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
DWP General Manager Ron Deaton said his office worked closely with the immigration and customs agency to examine the records of more than 7,000 DWP employees.
"While we have no reason to believe that any of the employees have terrorist connections, protecting our critical infrastructure is our department's No. 1 priority," Deaton said. "We will continue to do everything in our power to ensure the safety of Los Angeles residents."
Asked whether the department was embarrassed by the arrests, Deaton said: "No. We did our job."
Deaton said all of the arrested employees had been with the DWP for more than three years, and at least one had been there for more than five years. One worker made more than $100,000 a year.
DWP officials said those arrested held professional or blue-collar positions, including management analyst, customer service representative, water sampling technician and maintenance worker. One was an electrical engineering associate.
The DWP is not accused of knowingly hiring unauthorized people, Kice said, adding that several of the workers were able to present papers showing that they were in the country legally.
"In many cases, companies such as DWP seek to hire legal workers, only to have their efforts undermined by employees who present counterfeit documents or knowingly violate the conditions of their admission," said Julie L. Myers, Homeland Security's assistant secretary for the immigration and customs agency. "When a person uses fraud or false documents to obtain a job, they mask not only their true identities, but also their motives and in some cases, their criminal history."
All of the alleged unauthorized workers were processed for administrative immigration violations and will undergo deportation proceedings, immigration officials said.
Deaton said the probe showed that illegal workers can be found everywhere.
"Our experience underscores the reality that, contrary to the common perception, unauthorized workers can be found on all rungs of the job ladder," Deaton said.