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Local Pa. LE, federal immigration agency clash over raid

Associated Press Writer

ALLENTOWN, Pennsylvania- Unemployed mason Todd Harter heard there was a strip mall under construction not far from his central Pennsylvania house, drove the 30 miles (48 kilometers) to check it out and asked the man in charge for a job.

Harter noticed all the workers spoke Spanish. The owner of the masonry company "looked at the Mexicans, looked at me, and said, 'I don't think you'd fit in,'" said Harter, 38. "It made me mad."

What made him even angrier is that federal immigration agents neglected to take immediate action after his father and others told U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement they suspected illegal immigrants were working on the job site.

Now a local prosecutor and ICE are trading barbs about the agency's failure to raid the site, the latest salvos in an ongoing battle between state and local officials and the federal government over enforcement of immigration laws.

Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Rosini complained that federal authorities were too slow to act, saying that by the time ICE would have made an agent available to raid the job site in Coal Township, the masonry crew would have been long gone.

So Rosini orchestrated his own raid last week, calling in agents from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry to investigate potential labor law violations. On Wednesday, Labor and Industry charged the company, D&W Masonry Inc. of Columbus, Ohio, with 34 counts of violating child labor laws.

D&W did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday.

Dealing with ICE "certainly was frustrating," Rosini said. "We have people who are taking jobs that local people could do, legal aliens could do. Instead, we have people who are taking money out of the system and not putting any money back in."

But an ICE spokesman accused Rosini of sabotaging the federal investigation by conducting a raid without giving the agency sufficient time to develop evidence.

The spokesman, Dean Boyd, said immigration agents had asked Rosini to give them time to obtain a search warrant, but that the district attorney refused.

"Where does this leave a potential investigation into the employer?" Boyd said. "Damaged."

ICE has come under fire recently for lax worksite enforcement. On Monday, the Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, told a Senate committee that the number of unauthorized workers arrested fell from 2,849 in fiscal year 1999 to 445 in 2003.

Boyd said ICE has changed its strategy to go after employers of illegal immigrants. The number of employers charged criminally with violating immigration law increased from 24 in 1999 to 382 so far this year, he noted.

"Our strategy in conducting worksite enforcement is not simply to arrest illegal aliens," Boyd said. "That does not necessarily address the problem because there will be more waiting in the wings. A more effective strategy is to develop evidence against an employer."

U.S. Rep. Don Sherwood, a Republican who represents the area, said that ICE would not have accomplished much by raiding D&W's worksite without first developing evidence that D&W knowingly employed illegal immigrants.

"ICE is more interested in shutting down employers than they are arresting Mexican migrant laborers and then having to haul them to the border," Sherwood said.


On the Net:

ICE: http://www.ice.gov/

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