FAA Investigating How Immigrants Got Licenses

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) -- The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating how five people arrested on immigration charges qualified for licensing tests for the FAA's high-level repair licenses.

FAA administrators are looking into documents used by the five in seeking the right to test for Airframe and Powerplant certification, FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said. The A&P license allows mechanics to work on the more complex parts of a plane.

''To our knowledge, they all passed the written, oral and practical tests,'' said Bergen, who works at the FAA's Atlanta regional office.

It's permissible for foreigners to test for an A&P license as long as they provide valid proof of training and experience, which can come from their home country and is then verified by the U.S. State Department, Bergen said.

The five were arrested two weeks ago at TIMCO, an aviation-maintenance company at Piedmont-Triad International Airport.

Dave Latimer, a TIMCO vice president, said all the work performed by those arrested was double checked by FAA-licensed supervisors who weren't illegal immigrants and, often, by additional quality-control inspectors.

Federal agents detained 27 workers at TIMCO, 24 of whom are charged with being in the United States illegally. Most came from labor contractors who provide TIMCO with temporary workers. TIMCO was not implicated, agents said.

Meanwhile, an official with one of TIMCO's labor contractors had a hearing Wednesday on criminal charges stemming from the arrests and was denied bail. Jorge Ruiz-Alonso, 60, a Venezuelan, is accused of helping an illegal immigrant get work at TIMCO using fake green and Social Security cards.

Ruiz-Alonso, himself accused of being an illegal immigrant, worked five years for Structural Modification and Repair Technicians, or S.M.A.R.T., a labor contractor that put four of those charged as illegal immigrants at TIMCO.