Special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have arrested approximately 595 people suspected of being illegal aliens in the U.S., some with alleged ties to identity theft, at an electronics manufacturing plant in Laurel, Mississippi.
ICE and the U.S. Department of Justice announced late Tuesday that ICE executed a search warrant Monday at Howard Industries, which manufactures electric transformers, computer carts for the medical industry, desktop and laptop PCs, servers, and other computer-related products. Howard's technology division also sells products from Microsoft, Intel, Palm, Lenovo and other major tech vendors.
Eight of the people arrested Monday are being held on identity theft-related charges, the DOJ said. Investigators are looking into other charges, including the fraudulent use of Social Security numbers, the DOJ said.
"Identity theft is a growing problem in the United States, and the Department of Justice has prioritized bringing perpetrators of these crimes to justice and protecting the interests of innocent victims," Stan Harris, first assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi, said in a statement.
Howard Industries issued a statement about the raid. "Howard Industries runs every check allowed to ascertain the immigration status of all applicants for jobs," it said. "It is company policy that it hires only U. S. citizens and legal immigrants."
More than 100 of the people taken into custody, most of them reportedly mothers of young children, may be eligible for an alternative to jail, the DOJ said. These people will be required to appear before a U.S. immigration judge, who will decide whether they should be deported.
About 475 of the people arrested were transported to an ICE facility in Jena, Louisiana, about 200 miles from the Howard plant. They await decisions on whether they should be deported.
The arrests were part of an "ongoing nationwide effort to shut down the employment magnet fueling illegal immigration," Michael Holt, ICE's special agent in charge of the Office of Investigations in New Orleans, said in a statement.
Those arrested received medical screenings and were interviewed by a public health official to determine if they had any medical, caregiver or other humanitarian concerns, the DOJ said. Among those found at the plant were nine 17-year-olds not accompanied by parents, the DOJ said. Those teenagers were transferred to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, which helps immigrants integrate into U.S. society.
The people arrested were from several countries, including Germany, Peru, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras and Brazil, the DOJ said.