LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP)- Federal agents raided Wal-Mart’s
headquarters and 60 of its stores across the country yesterday,
arresting more than 300 illegal workers in an immigration crackdown
at the world’s biggest retailer.

In Michigan, Wal-Marts in Traverse City and Coldwater were
raided, according to Garrison Courtney, a spokesman with
Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The number of workers arrested
in Michigan wasn’t immediately known.

The workers, in the country illegally, were members of cleaning
crews that the company hired through a contractor, but federal law
enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said
Wal-Mart had direct knowledge of the immigration violations. They
cited recordings of meetings and conversations among Wal-Mart
executives, managers and contractors.

“We have seen no evidence of this from the INS, and, if that
turns out to be true, we will cooperate fully with law enforcement
officials,” Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams said.

The workers were arrested as they finished their night shifts at
Wal-Mart stores in 21 states. Agents also hauled away several boxes
of documents from an executive’s office at Wal-Mart headquarters in
Bentonville.

An employer can face civil and criminal penalties for knowingly
hiring illegal immigrants or failing to comply with certain
employee recordkeeping regulations.

Wal-Mart Stores had sales last year of $244.5 billion. The
company has about 1.1 million employees in the United States, and
it uses more than 100 third-party contractors to clean more than
700 stores nationwide, Williams said.

“We require each of these contractors to use only legal
workers,” she said.

The law enforcement sources said the investigation grew out of
earlier probes of Wal-Mart cleaning crew contractors in 1998 and
2001.

All the arrested workers were in the country illegally, said
Garrison Courtney, a spokesman with Immigration and Customs
Enforcement. They were detained at local immigration offices. Those
who had no criminal record were released with instructions to
appear before immigration judges.

Wal-Mart is not the first big company to be targeted in an
immigration investigation. Six managers at Tyson Foods, based one
town away from Wal-Mart in Springdale, were charged in an
immigrant-smuggling case in 2001.

One defendant shot himself to death a few months after being
charged, and two managers entered guilty pleas early in the case. A
jury acquitted the poultry company and three other managers.

Ulysses Yannas, an analyst with the investment firm Buckman,
Buckman and Reid, said it is too much to expect Wal-Mart to keep
track of all of its vendors’ workers. But he said the investigation
could present a problem for the company.

“It is a question of what else it might bring out. These are
long, drawn-out processes,” Yannas said.

Top Wal-Mart officials learned of yesterday’s sweep when store
managers began calling headquarters for guidance in dealing with
the raids.

Courtney said agents searched the office of one of Wal-Mart’s
executives. Williams, the spokeswoman, said they spent several
hours in the office of a “mid-level manager” at Wal-Mart’s
headquarters and carried away several boxes of paperwork.

She said she did not know if any other Wal-Mart administrative
offices were searched.

The arrests were made at stores in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona,
Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan,
North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio,
Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia
and West Virginia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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