The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is investigating 31 workers at Mesa’s Alpine Valley Bread bakery outlet as possible illegal immigrants who obtained their jobs through stolen Social Security numbers and fake driver’s licenses.
The sweep by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and deputies started about 10 a.m. Thursday. As of 2 p.m., 24 workers had been arrested and the bakery had closed as deputies continued to investigate other workers, according to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was at the business at 300 W. Southern Ave.
No Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were at the bakery Thursday morning, but Arpaio said he plans to continue cracking down on illegal immigrants who commit crimes to obtain their jobs and the companies who knowingly employ them during a time when many American workers are out of work.
“People accuse me of arresting just dishwashers,” Arpaio told a large group of reporters in front of the store. “These people are committing crimes to get their jobs. Stealing someone’s identity is a felony.”
Arpaio would not say who provided a tip to authorities that the bakery could be employing illegal immigrants with stolen identities.
A number of the workers from the company’s production, packaging and distribution departments were being taken away in buses in the wake of the sweep.
Christina Armenta, a former cake production worker at the bakery, was among a group of people standing across the street from the business watching what was happening. She said she quit working at the bakery a month ago because she could not find a babysitter. Armenta said she had been working 12-hour days, five days a week and receiving a lot of overtime, but before she quit she was put on salary and made less money.
She had arrived at the business on Thursday morning to pick up a letter from her former employer she could provide to the Department of Economic Services.
“I came into the surprise of this,” Armenta said. “My uncle and cousin work in there and a lot of my friends still do. I’m not worried about my uncle and cousin — they’re good to go, but I saw some of my friends being taken away in the bus.”
Armenta said she was afraid some of her friends might be deported.
“I feel bad for everybody,” Armenta said.
Arturo Garcia, who has worked in packaging for distribution to vendors at the bakery for a little more than a year, was supposed to start working at 2 p.m. Thursday, but came down to the bakery when he heard about the raid.
“I was shocked,” Arturo said. “I didn’t think this would happen here. The people are really hard-working loyal people. Many of them have kids. But, I know if you’re working without the proper identification, that’s against the law.”
Arpaio told reporters the incident at Alpine Valley Bread is further proof that more needs to be done to combat illegal immigration. He also mentioned that his deputies arrested an illegal immigrant Wednesday night who had somehow come to be inside the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant west of Phoenix.
“This causes great concern to me about the lackadaisical security at these government facilities, and that the government is allowing these people to come inside these facilities,” Arpaio said.
Arpaio did not comment about why the person arrested at the nuclear facility was there. The sheriff’s office was expected to release more information later in the day.
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