In a string of raids Wednesday, federal and local authorities cracked down on a company that gave illegal aliens fake identity badges so they could work at O'Hare Airport.
Through Ideal Staffing Solutions Inc. -- a temporary employment agency based in Bensenville -- the undocumented aliens got jobs working on the O'Hare tarmac, loading freight and meals onto commercial airliners. In some case, the workers were able to get through O'Hare security with badges that had been deactivated.
Authorities arrested 28 workers and two Ideal Staffing employees.
"Ideal Staffing told their employees that they needed to have identification to get hired, but that the documents need not be legitimate," said Elissa Brown, a special agent-in-charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
75 MORE SOUGHT
At a time when passengers face restrictions on how much toothpaste they can bring on board, the prospect of workers with phony IDs loading freight for United and Qantas raises profound security concerns, officials said.
"The government can't be too vigilant when it comes to airport employees getting access to secure areas," Brown said.
Cook County prosecutors charged 23 workers with possession of fraudulent identification -- a felony carrying a maximum sentence of three years. Two are from Guatemala, one is from El Salvador and the remaining 20 are from Mexico. They will face deportation after their criminal cases are dealt with, officials said. They were being held overnight before appearances in Cook County bond court today.
They were arrested at various warehouses at O'Hare and at their homes, an ICE official said. Five more were arrested late Wednesday. Authorities are still looking for more than 75 other illegals.
Meanwhile, ICE agents arrested Ideal Staffing's corporate secretary -- Mary Gurin, 36 -- and office manager Norinye Benitez, 24. Each is charged with federal counts of harboring illegal aliens and misusing Social Security numbers.
Benitez, herself allegedly an illegal immigrant, was being held pending a detention hearing Friday. Gurin, of Carpenterville, was released on $250,000 bond after a federal court hearing Wednesday afternoon.
In order to get access to secure areas at O'Hare, workers need green color-coded security badges issued by the city's Department of Aviation. Employees of Ideal Staffing obtained the badges using Social Security numbers that did not exist or that belonged to others, officials said.
Ideal Staffing allegedly kept a box with discarded airport security badges. On Oct. 11, Benitez told an employee to pick out the badge "with a picture that most closely resembled his own likeness," according to court documents. Though the badge had been deactivated, the worker was able to use it to gain access to a United cargo facility.
The employee had never been fingerprinted, as required by Aviation Department rules.
"It's an ongoing investigation, and we are cooperating with federal authorities," said Karen Pride, spokeswoman for the Aviation Department.
The issue of undocumented immigrants working at O'Hare is not new. Elvira Arellano, who conducted a yearlong standoff with immigration authorities by seeking sanctuary in a Chicago church, held a job at O'Hare cleaning airplanes.
In 2002, federal authorities charged 25 O'Hare and Midway workers and deactivated the access badges of more than 500 others as part of "Operation Tarmac" -- a crackdown on people who gained access to secure parts of airports with fake IDs.
Ideal Staffing is one of several companies providing temporary workers to airlines, sources said. The companies sometimes charge the airlines more than $30 an hour, while paying the illegals they hire as little as $7.50 an hour, sources said.