Immigration officers today raided an engine remanufacturing plant in Bellingham, arrested 28 illegal immigrant workers and began processing them for deportation.

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Immigration officers today raided an engine remanufacturing plant in Bellingham, arrested 28 illegal immigrant workers and began processing them for deportation.

The arrests are part of an ongoing investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials at Yamato Engine Specialists in Bellingham.

ICE officials say the 25 men and three women — most of them from Mexico — may have gained employment at Yamato using phony social security numbers and other counterfeit identity documents.

Yamato officials, who said they had been cooperating with ICE since last fall when investigators began looking at employment documents, were shocked by today’s raid.

In fact, three of the workers arrested today had been cleared as having legitimate documents during an employment records audit by ICE in 2005, said Yamato spokeswoman Shirin Dhanani Makalai.

We have been audited before so we do due diligence to get the proper paperwork,” Makalai said. “People bring you paperwork that by law you are required to accept. You can’t always tell if it’s not correct.”

With about 100 workers, Yamato specializes in rebuilding Japanese car engines and transmissions.

ICE investigators began looking into its employment records following the arrest of a criminal illegal immigrant who had previously worked there.

After being processed earlier today, officials released three of the immigrants on humanitarian grounds. The others are being held at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma.

“The lure of jobs in the United States continues to be one of the primary factors fueling illegal immigration,” said Leigh Winchell, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Seattle.

“ICE remains committed to investigating cases where the evidence shows employment laws are being violated.”

Lornet Turnbull: 206-464-2420 or lturnbull@seattletimes.com