(AP) – The Missouri State Highway Patrol is investigating whether nearly two dozen Hispanic men from Arkansas working on a construction project at a Hannibal cement plant are illegal immigrants.
Working on a tip, patrol officers were called Wednesday morning to Continental Cement in the northeast Missouri town. None of the approximately 20 workers were arrested or jailed, and all were allowed to continue working while patrol officials checked their names with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, patrol Lt. Nelson Elfrink said.
‘We got information that there were possibly illegal immigrants working there,’ Elfrink said. ‘The contractor voluntarily allowed us to identify those people.
‘If it comes back they are illegal, we’ll turn it over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.’
The workers are with Schueck Steel of Little Rock, Ark. The company did not return a phone call seeking comment.
They are working in Hannibal to help build a new $150 million kiln.
Continental Cement Vice President Tom Beck said he was surprised at the patrol’s actions because the construction project has been regularly monitored by federal regulators like the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
‘We have had routine inspections throughout the construction project, and all the documents are in order, so we are puzzled by this,’ Beck said. He declined further comment until he learned more about the event.
Elfrink did not say who provided the tip or why it was believed the workers were in the U.S. illegally. The Quincy (Ill.) Herald-Whig reported the tip came from an unidentified local legislator. State Rep. Rachel Bringer, D-Palmyra, and State Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, both said they were not the source.
Late last month, Gov. Matt Blunt announced a two-pronged crackdown on illegal immigrants. The Republican directed the highway patrol to check the immigration status of every person the patrol incarcerates; and he directed the Department of Economic Development to tighten oversight of contractors that receive state tax breaks or funding.
‘We are conducting a thorough investigation of this incident so we can take appropriate action,’ said Blunt spokeswoman Jessica Robinson.
Hispanic advocates say the crackdown will lead to racial profiling and could foster an atmosphere of hostility.
The Missouri Department of Economic Development said workers at the plant received training assistance paid for with state funds, but no state money went toward the construction project itself.
The department was investigating if the training funds could be in jeopardy if illegal immigrants were working on site and how much in state money was involved.
‘That’s still being determined,’ said department spokesman Keener Tippen.
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.