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Immigration Agents Arrest LBNL Staffers

Friday August 08, 2003

The U.S. government’s new Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the arrests of three foreign nationals working at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Wednesday. 

The three face deportation proceedings for criminal convictions unearthed during a post-Sept. 11 sweep of U.S. government laboratories. Their names were not released. 

None of the employees’ crimes—domestic violence, vehicle theft and cocaine possession—were committed on lab property, according to lab spokesman Ron Kolb, although all took place during the workers’ time of employment at the lab. 

Kolb also emphasized that no lab employees have access to sensitive intelligence or defense information. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LNBL), unlike Los Alamos National Laboratory and several other U.S. government labs, is focused on the life sciences, not defense technologies. 

Still, ICE spokesperson Sharon Rummery said the agency was concerned that the employees’ criminal records made them vulnerable to blackmail by people who could threaten to turn them in to immigration authorities. 

“It’s a sensitive facility,” she said. “It’s a place where a person who might be compromised could do some harm.” 

Rummery said she couldn’t speculate on what type of harm might be done at LNBL, which is operated by the University of California.  

Kolb said the three arrested employees were a computer network troubleshooter from Canada who had worked for the lab for 13 years, a biology lab technician from the Philippines who had worked at the lab six years and a Mexican maintenance worker who had been employed for 17 months. 

Kolb said he did not have information on the maintenance worker’s job performance, but said the other two employees had solid records at the lab. 

“There was nothing in their arrests that was related to work performance,” he said. 

ICE began its investigation of the lab last summer, combing through the records of about 4,000 employees. Kolb said the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, now subsumed within ICE, did a similar review in 1990. 

ICE was created March 1, 2003 as part of the federal government’s reorganization of its homeland security operation. The agency includes the old Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Customs Service and the Federal Protective Service.