Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) executed a series of criminal arrest warrants on Aug. 8 as part of a multi-state operation targeting businesses that hired and exploited illegal immigrants across the Midwest, officials said.
The 15-month operation led by the investigative arm of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) indicted 17 individuals connected to an alleged criminal conspiracy to cheat illegal workers for profit, fraud, wire fraud and money laundering in Nebraska and Minnesota.
Of those individuals, 14 were taken into custody on Aug. 8 while three are yet to be arrested, according to a statement.
Along with the business owners, 133 illegal workers from various businesses were also arrested for immigration violations. Some of the workers will be issued notices to appear before a federal immigration judge and be released on humanitarian grounds, such as health or family considerations. The remaining workers will be detained in ICE custody and be processed in a nearby facility pending immigration court proceedings.
Law enforcement alleged the 17 business owners and managers colluded to create a workforce made up of illegal immigrants in their respective businesses, which authorities say created an unfair advantage over their competition businesses.
The business owners were also suspected of exploiting the illegal immigrants through “force, coercion, or threat of arrest and/or deportation.” The illegal immigrants were allegedly required to cash their paychecks at an illegal remittance business for a fee, have tax money deducted from their pay even though the money was never paid to the government, and were told to remain silent about the criminal behavior, the statement said.
“The job magnet in the United States is primarily what draws illegal aliens across our borders,” Special Agent in Charge Tracy J. Cormier said in the statement.
“This HSI-led criminal investigation has shown that these targeted businesses were knowingly hiring illegal workers to unlawfully line their own pockets by cheating the workers, cheating the taxpayers, and cheating their business competitors.”
Authorities said illegal workers often use the stolen identities of legal U.S. workers to work in the country. The identity-theft can usually cause significant damage to a victim’s credit, medical records and other aspects of their life.
Back in May, ICE said the number of worksite enforcement investigations doubled over the last year. From Oct. 1, 2017 to May 4, 2018, the HSI opened 3,510 worksite investigations compared to 1,716 in the previous fiscal year. Over the same 2017 to 2018 period, they also initiated 2,282 I-9 audits and made 594 criminal and 610 administrative worksite-related arrests compared to 1,360 I-9 audits, 139 criminal arrests and 172 administrative arrests related to worksite enforcement in the previous fiscal year.