INS Isn’t Above the Law

Federal officials were right to respond quickly to allegations that immigration agents made offensive racial and religious remarks during a Feb. 17 search for undocumented workers at a Camarillo auto parts factory.

Although managers of Wilwood Engineering Inc. didn’t mind the documents check, they complained bitterly that some of the 20 Immigration and Naturalization Service agents involved referred to Latino employees generically as “Pedro,” addressed an Orthodox Jew as “rabbi” and threatened to shoot one employee if he tried to run from the law.

Told of the incident, officials of the INS’ Los Angeles District promptly filed a complaint with the agency’s Office of Internal Audit in Washington. An investigation was launched two days after the raid.

“Our main concern is the way our employees were treated in the raid and the harassment they faced, specifically from the one [lead] agent cowboying the whole thing,” a Wilwood official said. “I don’t know if incidents like this happen very often, but they should be stopped.”


Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), a champion of workplace immigration rules, added his voice to the call for a thorough investigation of this incident.

“I am aware of complaints that agents made references that were ethnic in nature and demeaning--references that, if verified, are certainly inappropriate if not a violation of a person’s civil rights,” Gallegly said. “I will not accept that.”

But before passing judgment, he added, “I want specifics. I want details. And I want documentation.” He added that if the allegations are determined to be true, wrongdoers should be punished--as should company officials if they knowingly hired illegal immigrants.

Presuming a suspect innocent until proven guilty is, of course, the American way. That’s something the agents seem to have forgotten in the way they allegedly spoke to the Wilwood employees they herded into a conference room for an ID check. Seven were found to be undocumented; they have been returned to their native countries.


Controlling illegal immigration is an important but thankless task. It is necessary to protect the rights of both native-born Americans and legal immigrants. Yet it is always difficult and sometimes dangerous.

The agents who do this work must not only enforce the laws of the U.S. government, they must recognize that they serve as its representatives. This is no job for bigots or bullies.

We salute the INS leadership for taking these complaints seriously and urge swift action to confirm or refute the allegations. If it is determined that some of the agents consider humiliating and terrorizing people to be acceptable parts of the job, those agents should be sent to find another line of work.