40 Indian H1 Workers Arrested by INS  

San Francisco, January 22, 2000 - 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 Naturalisation Service probe into an alleged visa scam at the Alamo City defence 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 wasnt 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.