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Thursday, August 18, 2022


Squads of armed U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service agents, some wearing bulletproof vests, swarmed into the Plaza Extra supermarkets on St. Croix and St. Thomas and a convenience store across from the airport on St. Thomas on Tuesday evening in search of illegal alien employees.
On St. Thomas, the INS said, the following persons were arrested for allegedly conspiring to harbor, smuggling and shielding aliens from detection by authorities: Ali Abu Ahmad, Abu Hussein, Amjad Muhyeddin and Taliai Mustafa.
On St. Croix, one person, Naim Hamed, said to be a Jordanian, was arrested for working at Plaza Extra without a permit.
A sixth person, Eliud Gomez, was arrested in Orlando, Fla., by San Juan and St. Thomas INS agents.
All of the arrest in the territory were on warrants issued by the INS special agents assigned to the San Juan District and the St. Thomas sub-office, according to the INS.
Those arrested were to be taken before federal magistrates Wednesday morning.
Agents made their first raid at the St. Croix Plaza Extra in the United Shopping Plaza, where the parking lot at 6 p.m. Tuesday resembled a swat team operation, according to witnesses.
About two dozen agents in black jackets with "Federal Agent" on the back surged into the St. Thomas Plaza Extra in Tutu Park Mall around 6:30 p.m. a person shopping in the store at the time told The Source. "They were going through the freezers, asking for green cards and passports," the witness said.
At 8:30 p.m. the agents were still on the premises and store manager Willy Hamed was not able to come to the telephone, an employee said.
On St. Croix, Fathi Yusef, who owns the Plaza Extra stores on both islands, said the agents were there for four hours.
He described Naim Hamed as a family member who had neglected to walk with his immigration papers. Saying he has about 300 employees, Yusef said, "We are clean. If we were not, we would have been arrested by now."
According to a release issued by the INS Puerto Rico office Wednesday morning, the arrests are related to a scheme whereby illegal aliens smuggled into the territory, reportedly via St. Martin, have been "employed in local businesses owned and/or operated by Arab nationals who for an additional fee allegedly would find them spouses to become legal residents of the United States in an attempt to circumvent" immigration laws.
Yusef, a native Palestianian who has resided on St. Croix for three decades, has operated the Plaza Extra there since the 1980s. He opened the St. Thomas store when Tutu Park Mall was built. The Lindbergh Bay market, which opened two years ago, is owned in part by Ali Abu Ahmad, who is from Palestine.
The INS release stated that all of those arrested are U.S. citizens except for Hussein, who has legal permanent residency status. It said they were all found to be working at the establishments but none had a valid employment authorization document issued by the INS.
According to the release, Tuesday evening's actions stemmed from investigations in the works for months.
In February, two Arab nationals in the country illegally were arrested at San Juan's Luis Munoz Marin Airport while attempting to board commercial flights to Miami, the release stated. One of them "revealed the involvement" of six other Arab nationals and one U.S. citizen in his illegal entry into the United States. Through his testimony, anti-smuggling agents were able to identify all participants in this conspiracy," the release said.
Warrants for Tuesday's arrests were issued May 17, it said.
"Alien smuggling is a crime punishable with up to 10 years in prison, and the INS will prosecute those smuggling aliens into the United States and those engaged in harboring and the shielding of illegal aliens," Myma O. Pere, IND district director, said. "I hope that these arrests will send a strong message to potential smugglers that the INS will continue enforcing the immigration law."

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