40 H1 Workers from India Arrested by INS


January 22,2000

San Francisco: Forty Indian nationals working as contract computer
programmers for the US Air Force were arrested at the Randolph Air Force
Base in San Antonio, Texas, on Thursday morning during a raid by
immigration agents.


The crackdown was the culmination of a six-month Immigration and
Naturalization Service probe into an alleged visa scam at the Alamo City
defense installation. While some of the engineers were let off on
Thursday, 27 of their colleagues remained in detention on Friday
afternoon. They were released later in the evening.


INS officials in San Antonio said all the Indian engineers were on a H1B
work visa. Their companies had applied for H1B visas from Houston. They
were working in San Antonio. They were basically not working where they
were supposed to, an INS official said, preferring not to be named.

Two firms sub-contracting for ACS Government Solutions Group Inc., the Air
Force Personnel Centres prime contractor for developing computer
programmes at the centre, are suspected of telling federal authorities the
workers would be placed in Houston, then later shifting them to San
Antonio.

Manohar Reddy, president of Houston-based Frontier Consulting Inc., one of
the two companies placed under suspicion, said he had done nothing wrong.
All the engineers are on valid visas. All our paperwork is in place.
We have our attorneys working on the case, Reddy said,
declining to
comment any further. While Rana Pratap, head of the other company, Softech
Consulting Inc., was unavailable for comment, his attorney Rahul Reddy
felt the INS raid was aimed at his client because he was Indian. It was a
region specific raid targeting Indian companies.


All the engineers are within their legal status. And if something was
amiss, the INS should have contacted the company and not harassed these people,
Reddy said. Chandrashekhar Reddy Soma, a software programmer with
the Rockville, Maryland-based ACS Government Solutions Group Inc., was one
of the 40 Indians to be picked up, handcuffed and humiliated by the INS
agents.


We were doing our work when all of a sudden
there was an announcement that
all non-immigrant Indians must report for checking, Soma told this
correspondent, adding that he had suspected nothing amiss as the Air Force
regularly conducted such checks.

The unsuspecting engineers were in for a rude shock when they were
confronted by gun-totting INS agents who allegedly manhandled them and
informed them that they were all under investigation for illegal
operations.


Soma recalled how he and other engineers were
handcuffed and bundled into waiting vans. Pregnant women were also
not spared a similar treatment, he said. The handcuffed engineers were
forced to undergo a humiliating march
through their office building before being driven to prison.
Rahul Reddy admitted it was not normal procedure for INS agents to enter
into a workplace, arrest and handcuff employees. The programmers, who have
been working at the Air Force installation for the past three years, are
developing an Oracle human resources project. The next-generation
personnel management system will serve active-duty airmen, reservists, the
National Guard and retirees.


Three hundred and twenty contractors and Air Force
personnel are employed at the site. Of these 80 are Indian computer engineers.
We were forced to walk handcuffed into our apartments, said Kishore Bollu, another software
programmer with ACS Government Solutions Group Inc., recounting the
humiliation he and other Indians were put through.


They wanted me to produce my papers while I was still handcuffed.
They even tried to take us into our banks with our handcuffs on so that we
could retrieve our documents. It was only after we pleaded with them did
they remove the shackles, but still three INS men marched each of us into
the bank, he said. Bollu, who has done his masters in computer science from the US, said he
and other Indian engineers were later taken to jail where they were forced
to share a filthy cell with a group of Mexicans arrested on charges of
border crossing. It was a very humiliating and embarrassing experience. We had never
expected this kind of treatment, Bollu said, adding: Until now we never
thought being an Indian was something to be ashamed of.
We are all engineers and some of us hold masters degrees. We can never
forgive the INS for the kind of treatment that was meted out to us, he
said, summing up the mood of Indians in San Antonio.

A source said the three-year-old multi-million dollar Air Force project
was recently put on line. Hinting at the suspicious timing of the raid,
the source said: All these Indian engineers will be out of their jobs in
March. Why wasn’t the raid conducted six months ago? The INS had the same
information it had now.

But, had the raid taken place then the Air Force project would have been
in jeopardy. A statement from the Air Force said the Indian engineers had
no access to classified data and were not believed to have breached
security at the base, one of four Air Force installations in San Antonio.
The Indians had zero access to classified material and had minimal access
to military and civilian personnel records, the statement said.

Meanwhile,
US energy secretary Bill Richardson said in Washington on Friday that
Asian-American scientists in the US energy department nuclear laboratories
had been adversely affected by suspicion following the arrest of a Taiwanese-born scientist on charges of breaching security.
Richardson said steps to rectify this have been introduced, including a
stand down so that the departments employees can devote a day to consider
steps to stop racial profiling.

Source: Deccan Chronicle, India

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