In an early-morning raid April 11, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service agents apprehended 60 illegal immigrants working at Flexon Industries Inc., a plastics hose and cable manufacturer in Newark, N.J. About 36-40 agents from INS' New Jersey office and the U.S. Department of Labor rounded up the workers, all illegal immigrants from Ecuador, Peru, Honduras, Mexico and El Salvador, INS spokesman Bill Carattini said in an April 17 telephone interview from Newark.
The plant raid was the culmination of a two-month investigation dubbed ``Operation Thunder,'' which focused solely on Flexon. He said the people in question had worked at the plant for different lengths of time, ranging from short-term to several years.
The private manufacturer of water hoses and cable extensions from PVC and other plastics employs about 200.
Flexon refused to comment on the raid.
The company had not been charged yet, Carattini said. He said INS must determine whether Flexon complied with the Immigrant Reform and Control Act of 1986, which requires employers to verify that any non-U.S. citizens they hire are permanent residents and not illegal immigrants. Permanent residents must have either a green card or special visa permitting them to work in the United States, he said.
The case will remain open while INS determines whether the company had the proper forms on file and whether they were completed accurately.
``It takes time to go through those records,'' he said.
If charged, Flexon could face fines of $100-$2,000 for each illegal worker.
Also seized in the raid were 12 privately owned cars ``used to transport illegal aliens to unauthorized employment,'' another offense under the law's provision, he said.
Since the raid, some of those originally apprehended have returned voluntarily to their countries, waiving deportation hearings. A judge will review the rest on a case-by-case basis. As of April 14, about 20 people had been released on $3,000 bond to await their hearings and the others were being detained, he said.
Carattini said INS conducts an average of two raids per week in the state, sometimes apprehending as few as five or six persons.