Federal agents early Thursday morning arrested 14 Ellensburg area residents related to criminal charges of manufacture and purchase of counterfeit identity and employment documents, according to a news release from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Another 16 were taken into custody on administrative immigration violations, and three of those were later released for humanitarian reasons, according to the news release issued this morning.
All 30 are Mexican nationals, according to ICE/HSI spokeswoman Lorie Dankers in Seattle, and the three released were women.
Assisting the federal agents were Kittitas County Sheriff's deputies and Ellensburg police officers.
At least two of the locations where search warrants were carried out and arrests made were at Millpond Mobile Manor on Canyon Road southeast of Ellensburg and a mobile home park on West University Way.
A helicopter with a searchlight was part of the federal operation.
The 14 were expected to make their initial appearance in federal court this morning in Yakima.
They were arrested early Thursday morning by ICE/HSI agents on criminal charges related to an investigation into the manufacture and purchase of counterfeit identity and employment documents.
ICE/HSI agents were joined by other federal and local law enforcement agencies as they served 11 criminal search warrants at 22 locations Thursday morning in Ellensburg and in county areas near the city.
All of those arrested on criminal charges were indicted by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Washington earlier this month as a result of an investigation that has been ongoing since summer 2009.
According to the release, of the 14 scheduled to appear this morning in federal court, 13 of the defendants are charged with visa fraud and government identity fraud. Three of the defendants have the additional charge of false claim to U.S. citizenship.
The one remaining defendant is charged with re-entry into the United States after deportation.
"Those who create and sell fraudulent documents compromise our nation's legal identification system and provide counterfeit identities to those who may otherwise be ineligible to live or work legally in the United States," said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of HSI in Washington state in the release. "Targeting those who commit this type of crime is an enforcement priority for ICE Homeland Security Investigations."
In addition to the 14 criminal arrests, 16 others were taken into custody on administrative immigration violations.
Three individuals were interviewed and released for humanitarian reasons while they await a hearing before an immigration judge.
The remaining individuals are in the custody of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma where they have been placed in removal proceedings.
HSI was assisted in this investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security; U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations; the Kittitas County Sheriff's Office; the Yakima County Violent Crimes Task Force; and the Ellensburg Police Department.
According to court papers, the criminal fraud charges relate to the manufacture and sale of fraudulent documents to individuals who subsequently used them to gain employment at various businesses in Eastern and Western Washington.