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    Illegal hiring brings $350k in fines

    Immigration and Customs Enforcement has collectively fined 17 Massachusetts employers nearly $350,000 over the past year for hiring unlawful employees, the agency said.

    Among those fined were Northern Pelagic Group of New Bedford, fined $151,200; Samar Co. of Stoughton, $33,786.22; and Quality Workforce Inc. of Brockton, $26,881.25.

    Attempts to reach them for comment were not immediately successful.

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    ICE has been auditing documents employers are required to keep as a way to reduce the demand for illegal employees. The fines announced Wednesday were as a result of audits conducted during the government’s fiscal 2012, which ended Sept. 30.

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    The total of $349,619.54 of ICE fines for 17 Bay State employers in fiscal 2012 compares with the total of $175,420.25 for 11 companies in fiscal 2011.

    An ICE spokesman said a larger number of auditors doing investigations was responsible for the increase.

    “These settlements serve as a reminder to employers that HSI will continue to hold them accountable for hiring and maintaining a legal and compliant workforce,” said Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge of the local office for Homeland Security Investigations, or HSI.

    Chris Reidy can be reached at reidy@globe.com.