-- Federal agents conducted a nine-state raid Wednesday and arrested more than 1,100 people on illegal immigration charges.
The targeted business was IFCO Systems, a manufacturer of crates and pallets. More than 40 IFCO sites were raided in numerous American cities, including Charlotte.
Seven current or former IFCO managers face criminal charges as the government tries to crack down on employers who harbor and hire illegal immigrants, ignoring the law so they can exploit cheap labor.
"We are going to move beyond the current level of activity to a higher level in each month and year to come," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday. He pledged to "come down as hard as possible" on violators.
At the IFCO Systems in Charlotte, 44 employees were arrested.
The IFCO managers are charged with conspiring to transport, harbor and encourage illegal workers to reside in the United States. Six of the seven have already posted bail, and their court appearances will be May 4 in Albany, N.Y., where the criminal complaint was filed and the investigation began at a suburban IFCO facility.
The managers could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each illegal immigrant.
"Just a small fine or a slap on the wrist is not a deterrent," said Julie Myers, assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Most of the 1,187 illegal immigrants arrested are being processed for deportation, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Tina Sciocchetti in Albany.
They were getting cheated on their overtime," she said. "There were 10 to 20 people living in a house sleeping on air mattresses. They weren't the greatest employment conditions."
Myers said the government has no tolerance for any company that knowingly employs illegal immigrants.“Today's nationwide enforcement actions show how we will use all our investigative tools to bring these individuals to justice, no matter how large or small their company," she said.
At the Charlotte location on Scott Futrell Drive, 44 employees were arrested. Some of the other cities where arrests took place include Cincinnati; Indianapolis; Phoenix; Richmond, Va.; and Westborough, Mass.
Don Sherman, director of the Cincinnati Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, an advocate for immigrant workers and their rights, was skeptical about the government's move.
"I think the timing is very suspicious because there are a number of rallies coming up around the country promoting immigration reform," he said.
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