Two owners of an engine rebuilding company that was raided in January, raising questions about federal policies on illegal immigrants, were sentenced Monday to a year on probation and their business must pay a $100,000 fine

Two owners of a Bellingham engine-rebuilding company that was raided in January, raising questions about federal policies on illegal immigrants, were sentenced Monday to a year on probation and their business must pay a $100,000 fine.

Shafique Amirali Dhanani and Shirin Dhanani Makala, corporate directors, managers and two owners of family-owned Yamato Engine Specialists, were spared prison time, fines and restitution in plea agreements followed to the letter by U.S. District Judge James L. Robart. A guilty plea was entered earlier Monday for Yamato, which agreed to pay half the fine immediately and the balance by Dec. 31. The company also must take out a half-page advertisement in The Bellingham Herald to describe how it got into hot water for hiring undocumented workers.

“These are not the most serious crimes. They are not the most violent crimes. They don’t involve guns or drugs,” Robart said, “but they are important … this is a serious matter.”

Dhanani and Makala, a brother and sister from a hardworking family that left Uganda decades ago, pleaded guilty in August. They could have faced at least five years in prison and fines of $250,000, and the company could have been fined $500,000.

Robart said the fine and “substantial publicity” were significant punishment for the company and the stigma of felony convictions would be sufficient deterrence against future violations by other business owners as well as by Dhanani, the company’s production manager, and Makala, manager of human resources. Both insist they never intended to violate the law.

Yamato was the first company to be raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents after President Obama took office calling for more prosecution of businesses that hire undocumented workers. A review was subsequently ordered by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who said she had not been informed of the raid in advance.

Of the 28 workers who were arrested Feb. 24, one is known to have returned to Mexico and the rest received temporary work permits to remain in the country pending the conclusion of the criminal case. With the sentencing, the permits have expired and all 27 now face deportation proceedings that could extend for “upwards of several months,” said Lori Dankers, an ICE spokeswoman.

After the proceedings, Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald M. Reno Jr., shook hands with the defendants and the rest of the Yamato owners and wished them good luck. “You represent everything that’s great about America,” Reno said.

On their lawyers’ advice, family members would not comment after the proceedings. Lawrence B. Finegold, a lawyer for Dhanani, said Yamato remains in operation but would not talk about the state of the business.

The case was “a hybrid” in which the investigation was conducted and initial warrants were issued under Bush administration guidelines while the raid in February and subsequent legal proceedings occurred after Obama took office, Finegold said outside the courtroom. He explained that under the new rules, warrants for immigration raids must be sought from the criminal side of U.S. attorneys’ offices and show probable cause to believe that violations have occurred, but the Bush administration allowed ICE to obtain civil warrants under a less restrictive standard.

At the same time, Reno said the practical effect was “just a fine line of words, rather than the reality.” To charge and convict an employer of knowingly hiring undocumented workers, encouraging illegal entry into the United States and other immigration-related offenses still requires the arrest, confinement and questioning of the employees to obtain evidence, he said. “The most convincing part of that proof comes from illegal aliens,” Reno said. “It’s going to be just as disruptive [“disruptive”! How awful!] to the illegal aliens,” he added. “That’s not going to change.”


Now we know something we did not know before: Illegal immigrants must not have their lives “disrupted”