Sweatshop raids lead to 55 arrests in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES (AP) Immigration agents stormed three suspected underground sweatshops and took 55 people into custody yesterday.

The raids followed a nationally publicized sweep three weeks ago of a sweatshop in El Monte, where authorities discovered 72 Thai nationals imprisoned and forced to sew clothes for up to 150 hours a week.

Yesterday's raids at three Los Angeles buildings were prompted by a tip that was made soon after the El Monte raid, said Richard K. Rogers, district director of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

''The tremendous publicity in the El Monte case has heightened public awareness about the problem,'' Rogers said.

All but three of those taken into custody yesterday were illegal immigrants from Thailand, Mexico, Central America or South America, authorities said.

Officials say the premises seemed crowded and there were indications that the workers also lived there, but none seemed to have been held against their will.

INS officials believe that the Thai nationals were brought over to work in the sweatshops until they had repaid the cost of their passage, Rogers said.

The U.S. attorney's office and Department of Labor were investigating possible criminal violations, authorities said.

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