Illegal immigrants on military bases worry Congress

RALEIGH, N.C. – Scores of illegal immigrants working as cooks, laborers, janitors, even foreign-language instructors have been seized at military bases around the country in the past year, raising concerns in some quarters about security and troop safety.

The immigrants did not work directly for the military but for private contractors, as part of a large-scale effort by the Pentagon to outsource many routine rear-echelon jobs and free up the troops to concentrate on waging war.

Some worry that this fast-growing practice could make U.S. military installations more vulnerable to security breaches.

“We can’t let down our guard,” said Rep. Robin Hayes, a North Carolina Republican whose district includes Fort Bragg, home of the Army’s Special Operations Command. “The motive of these particular individuals remains unclear. However, my greatest concern is that they were able to gain access to the installation at all.”

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, immigration officials have focused on military bases as well as airports, nuclear power plants and the nation’s power grid. In the past year, they have caught about 150 illegal immigrants at military installations around the country, said Jamie Zuieback, a spokeswoman for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement service in Washington, D.C.

There is no evidence any of them had any links to terrorists, though investigations are continuing, Zuieback said. She said the agency is concerned that such installations “could be vulnerable to exploitation by someone who has ill intent.”

This month, officials arrested three foreign language instructors at Fort Bragg. Over the summer, authorities apprehended 74 construction workers lacking documentation at Camp Lejeune, the Marines’ major base on the Atlantic Ocean, and caught 49 illegal immigrants at North Carolina’s Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Illegal immigrants have also been caught at bases in Idaho and Florida.

Some of them were deported; others were escorted off base and released.

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