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DeCA Helps Sack Illegal Immigrant Baggers

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15, 1996 – Defense Commissary Agency officials are working with base commanders to detect illegal immigrants working at commissary stores.

The agency's concerns follow the arrests of nine illegal aliens working as baggers at the Fort Belvoir, Va., commissary. U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officers made the arrests. Documents showing questionable identity information led to the Immigration and Naturalization Service action.

"People who want to do business on a military installation are licensed by installation commanders," said commissary agency spokesman Tim Ford. "This applies to baggers, insurance salesmen and others." He said the agency accepts the decisions commanders make in licensing eligible baggers at commissaries.

However, Ford also said installation commanders would receive more information from DeCA's next "Commander's Update" newsletter to increase awareness on illegal immigrants.

A visible part of commissary service worldwide, nearly 5,000 baggers work in stores but are not commissary system employees. Baggers earn wages from patron tips.

"[Baggers are] authorized to enter the base for the purposes of carrying out a personal business for profit," said Philip F. Koren, DeCA's general counsel. "Commissary baggers are selfemployed, working under a license agreement with the installation commander."

Prospective baggers must apply through the base for a work license under the rules of DoD Directive 1344.7, Personal Commercial Solicitation on DoD Installations. Each military service through its regulations determines its hiring guidelines. Post commanders then enforce those regulations at the local level.

Applicants must present photo identification and a Social Security number to obtain a work license. In most cases, military police will conduct a local records check and work with the Immigration and Naturalization Service as a part of that process. By executive order, Koren said bagger applicants must be U.S. citizens or hold a "green card" from the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Once an installation commander approves a work license, each bagger must sign an agreement with the base commissary. The agreement acknowledges the bagger is not a commissary employee and not eligible for commissary benefits and incentives, health care or pension. The bagger must also agree to meet store requirements for bagging grocery items, maintain a neat, clean appearance and follow accepted personal hygiene standards.

Baggers must also declare they will comply with all federal, state and local laws regarding legal employment, income tax and authorized access to the installation.

Commissary officials said store officers control how baggers conduct bagging and carryout service, based on their agreement. Following those guidelines, store officers can suspend or revoke licenses, based on performance.

Fort Belvoir officials said the casual nature of the employment and its cash basis make the job a magnet for illegal aliens. "It's a situation we pay constant attention to," said Lt. Col. Stephen Mongelluzzo, the Fort Belvoir provost marshal.

Mongelluzzo called the arrests a step in the right direction. "It's kind of like speeding once you set up speed checks, people adhere to the limits. Then when you relax, people start to creep back up again."

(Lawrence Morahan of the Fort Belvoir Eagle newspaper contributed to this story.)

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