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Federal Agents Raid Walmart, Arrest 250 Illegal Immigrants

By Steven Greenhouse

The New York Times -- Federal agents raided 60 Wal-Mart stores across the nation Thursday and said they arrested more than 250 illegal immigrants who worked as janitors for outside contractors used by Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer.

As part of the 21-state raid, the largest immigration crackdown in years, federal agents also searched the office of an executive at Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. and removed papers, company and government officials said.

One federal official said that a grand jury was investigating the matter and that the government believed that Wal-Mart executives knew about the widespread use of illegal immigrants.

The official said the government had used wiretaps to investigate meetings and conversations among Wal-Mart executives and contractors.

Wal-Mart executives were quick to acknowledge the raids and said that the arrested workers were employed by contractors and that Wal-Mart expected those contractors to employ only legal workers.

Tom Williams, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the raid and allegations that illegal immigrants were used in its stores was a surprise.

“We’ve seen no evidence from the Immigration Service that anyone in Wal-Mart was involved in any scheme involving illegal workers,” he said. Williams said he believed that the Wal-Mart manager whose office was raided worked in Wal-Mart’s building services division.

The workers who were arrested were finishing the night shift, said Garrison Courtney, a spokesman for the division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Most are from Eastern Europe or Latin America.

Courtney said federal officials had originally sought to arrest 300 of the janitorial workers when the raids began around 4 a.m. Thursday, but were able to arrest slightly more than 250. The employees now face deportation.

Thursday’s arrests came after a five-year period that saw federal immigration authorities greatly scale back the number of raids on businesses.