IMMIGRATION RAIDS AEP PLANT

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Immigration investigators raided an AEP Industries Inc. plastic film plant in Mountain Top, Pa., on May 7 and arrested 37 illegal aliens, but company officials insist they followed all regulations when they hired the workers.

South Hackensack, N.J.-based AEP could be fined $3,000 per employee if the Immigration and Naturalization Service determines the firm broke any laws. However, AEP would not be liable if it did not know that the workers used forged documents, INS officials said. INS Philadelphia office spokeswoman Michele Kennedy said an initial inspection indicates that at least the majority of the documentation provided by the firm appears to be correct.

Investigators will determine if the firm is at fault in two to three weeks, she said. The probe focused only on this facility, and the agency has had no previous problems with AEP, she said.

AEP followed ``garden-variety-type hiring practices'' and is cooperating with the INS investigation, said Jim Mohney, AEP manufacturing manager.

``All of our documentation was complete,'' he said. ``We believe we complied fully with all the laws and regulations.''

The firm opened the Mountain Top plant about a year ago and recruited workers only locally, Mohney said. The 300,000-square-foot plant employs about 200. The company moved production from a Moonachie, N.J., plant.

The raid happened at shift change, so it is possible that the company may lose more workers from the other two shifts, he said. The loss of the employees will not cause any ``major disruption'' in operations, he said.

All of the illegal aliens will go before an immigration judge to decide if they should be deported, Kennedy said.

INS targeted the plant after getting a tip from several local police departments, who discovered during traffic stops that several people who admitted to being illegal aliens also said they worked at the plant, Kennedy said. The agency also received anonymous tips, she added.