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Auto-parts company fined for hiring illegal aliens; Marada in Westminster contesting $39,730 levy


The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has fined a Westminster auto-parts company nearly $40,000 for hiring illegal immigrants arrested in a raid of the plant last year.

Marada has not paid the fine and is contesting the amount, which is based on the number of violations.

INS agents raided the manufacturing and assembly factory in February and arrested 29 suspected illegal workers, many of whom voluntarily returned to their native countries.

As reported after the arrests, the company could lose $1.5 million in state aid -- loan money which was to be forgiven if the company met hiring quotas.

The raid spawned an investigation into Marada's employment records, which showed several administrative violations, INS officials said.

"We looked at hiring records and uncovered administrative discrepancies -- probably as many as 150 discrepancies," said John Shallman, an INS spokesman. "The fine is a result of an investigation that followed the raid. A dollar figure was assigned to each violation."

Employers are required by law to confirm an employee's identity by reviewing documents such as a driver's license and the applicant's eligibility to work in the United States. Eligibility can be established with a Social Security card or an INS employment card.

INS served notice of the fine Dec. 3 and gave the company 30 days to respond. Marada has asked for time to negotiate a settlement rather than pay $39,730.

"We are now exploring the settlement," Shallman said. "If our attorneys and Marada's are not able to reach a settlement, the issue will go before an administrative judge."

There is no time limit for reaching a settlement, but if the parties cannot come to an agreement, the courts will handle the matter.

Shallman called the amount "average, from what I have seen of fines in the last two years. If an employer knowingly hires an illegal worker, it can be assessed as much as $2,000 per violation."

To convict an employer of breaking immigration laws, INS officials must show that a business has knowingly hired illegal aliens, many of whom carry forged papers.

Marada employs about 450 workers at its plant on Route 97.

"Ninety-nine percent of the employers in the state comply with the provisions of immigration law," said Shallman. "Our goal is to get the remaining 1 percent. That is what fines are all about."

Criminal convictions of companies are rare, but the Marada case has raised concerns among state and local officials.

The company received about $1.5 million in state aid for economic development and job training four years ago. The money was in the form of low-interest loans, but if the company increased its payroll -- then at 250 workers -- by 150 employees, the loans would become grants.

Marada has added 200 workers, and its officials have asked that the loans be retired.

Jack Spangler, Marada's human resource manager and designated spokesman, said through a secretary Friday that he was not accepting calls from reporters and that he had no comment.

State Department of Business and Economic Development officials said Friday they will wait for the results of the negotiations.

If it turns out that illegal hires helped the company reach its employment quota, the loan conversion probably would not happen, said Jacqueline M. Lampell, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

"We received their letter asking for a conversion after we heard word of the raid," Lampell said yesterday. "We will not take any action until the arbitration is completed."

If Marada has not met the employment targets by Dec. 30, 2000, it would be required to start repaying the loan, Lampell said.

Pub Date: 1/24/99

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