The city is "saturated" with aliens denied jobs because of the new immigration law, possibly leading to this week's arrests of 175 suspected illegal immigrants smuggled east on airlines, officials said.
"A year ago we'd average five men a night sleeping in our church. We now have 90. We also have 40 women and children in our convent," said the Rev. Gregory Boyle, pastor of Mission Dolores, a Roman Catholic parish that has become a refuge to illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America.U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service agents on Wednesday arrested 27 more suspected illegal aliens aboard a Piedmont Airlines flight during a stop in Charlotte, N.C., between Phoenix and New York.
The journey of the Salvadorans, Ecuadorans, Mexicans and Brazilians began with an America West flight from Los Angeles to Phoenix, authorities said.
On Monday, 79 suspected illegal aliens taking Eastern Airlines' "red eye" from Los Angeles to New York were arrested during a stop in Atlanta. Late Monday, 69 were arrested while boarding the same flight in Los Angeles.
The 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act hits employers with sanctions if they hire illegal aliens. On Wednesday, a California farm labor contractor accused of more than 330 violations of the law became the first agricultural business in the nation to be fined under the law.
S&A Farm Contractors of Madera was fined $153,250 for employing 27 illegal aliens who were arrested during Border Patrol sweeps in January, said J. William Carter, chief of the Border Patrol office in Livermore.
Some officials say the law may be the reason illegal immigrants are turning away from their longtime destination, Los Angeles and California farms.
Neil Jacobs, the assistant INS director for investigations in Atlanta, described Los Angeles as "literally saturated with aliens," and said word has gotten around that they can't get jobs.
Boyle agreed, and said it stems from the immigration law reform.
"My feeling is there is a saturation here," he said, noting that movement into the agricultural San Joaquin Valley evaporated months ago.
Smugglers' use of airlines is not new, although it is not considered commonplace. The Charlotte arrests were the third for that Piedmont flight since October.
"Apparently, they've been using the flight for the past three months pretty regularly," said David Carmichael, INS supervisor in Charlotte.
In the case of Eastern's "red eye," Flight 80, the INS believes several smugglers were taking advantage of low fares to move the aliens, who are subject to deportation if caught.
"This flight, we are hopeful, will be closed to smugglers of aliens, but we expect there will be other flights in the future," said Donald H. Looney, acting district director of the INS in Los Angeles.
Airlines say they cooperate with the INS but do not have policies of trying to determine if any passengers might be illegal immigrants.
"We don't engage in trying to detect these types of passengers," said Eastern spokeswoman Virginia Sanchez in Miami. "That's what the INS is there for. If they wish to enforce their immigration regulations, that's part of their job."
America West reserves the right to ask any passenger for identification, but that would not be operationally possible considering the airline carried 13 million passengers last year, said spokesman Dick Shimizu.
"I'm sure you would be able to see the enormous delays."