LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California printer supply manufacturer raided by federal authorities four years ago has agreed to plead guilty to employing illegal immigrants and pay $267,000 in fines.
Wazana Brothers International — also known as Micro Solutions Enterprises — has reached a proposed plea deal with federal prosecutors that includes a sentence of three years' probation and a compliance program for employing 55 illegal immigrants, court papers show.
Company president Yoel Wazana — who is slated to appear in federal court in Los Angeles later on Wednesday — will plead guilty to aiding and abetting the false representation of a Social Security number by a worker, federal prosecutors said. The deal still must be approved by a judge.
The charges come four years after federal immigration agents raided the Van Nuys company and arrested about 130 workers on suspicion of being in the country illegally. Eight workers were criminally charged at the time with providing fraudulent information — but charges against the company and its president were filed just last month.
"We have identified and successfully targeted those responsible for employing an illegal workforce," said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's homeland security investigations in Los Angeles. "That's the way we will deter companies and individuals running the companies from engaging in that behavior."
In recent years, the Obama administration has stepped up company audits and arrests of managers while rounding up fewer illegal immigrant workers for deportation in worksite operations. In the last fiscal year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested more than 200 managers — more than twice the number of four years earlier — while the number of illegal immigrants arrested during worksite enforcement efforts fell to 1,471 from 4,077, agency statistics show.
Company attorney Peter Schey said Wazana acknowledges its negligence five years ago when it disregarded some workers' immigration status and is committed to full compliance with the law.
"These errors were corrected long ago and changes in procedures will preclude them from happening again," Schey said.
Immigration agents began investigating the Van Nuys company in 2007 and asked to review the company's payroll, employee certification list and employment eligibility paperwork. The company then moved dozens of workers to another manufacturer's production line and reported only some of them — not all — to federal authorities, according to court papers.
After the February 2008 raid, dozens of the arrested workers fought federal government efforts to deport them, arguing that immigration agents had no right to detain them.
Some won their cases in immigration court but have since lost on appeal and now face deportation, said Ahilan Arulanantham, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which is representing a handful of cases and advising on others.
Arulanantham said he believes the penalties faced by the company pale in comparison to the prospect of deportation for a worker.
"The Obama administration appears to have recognized it is cheaper and more humane to target employers but they persist in wasting judicial resources trying to deport the workers arrested in the Van Nuys raid," he said.