More than 4,000 illegal workers were arrested this summer in the Immigration and Naturalization Service's largest enforcement operation in the South in more than a decade, officials said Tuesday.
Of the 4,044 immigrants found working illegally in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee, more than 3,400 have already been sent back to their native countries, said INS Commissioner Doris Meissner.
The vast majority of the illegal immigrants--more than 3,500--were Mexican, with the remainder coming from 44 countries throughout Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
More than 300 businesses were surveyed and inspected during Operation SouthPAW (protecting America's workers), which was conducted June 5-29 and Sept. 6-23 using more than 100 officials of the INS, Labor Department and state and local law enforcement agencies, Meissner said.
"We do believe there are more illegal workers in this region than we have apprehended," Meissner said, declining to give an estimate.
To date, 10 employers in Alabama and Georgia have been cited and fined up to $15,000 for violating immigrant hiring laws.
The INS also has launched more than 20 prosecutions and investigations on charges including re-entry after deportation, distribution of counterfeit documents and immigrant smuggling, Meissner said.