PPA spokesman Marty O'Rourke would say only that "the Parking Authority worked with federal authorities on this operation."
Two of the three cleared drivers identified themselves as American citizens and said that the experience had been both harrowing and humiliating and that they, too, had been handcuffed and interrogated.
One of them, Oliver, who didn't want his last name used, said a receptionist greeted him when he went into the PPA offices on Swanson Street near Ritner Wednesday morning.
"She asked for my Social Security number and said they had a check for me and that a gentleman was going to walk me into the next room to pick [it] up," he said.
Once inside, Oliver said, Immigration and Customs officers "grabbed me and pushed me against the wall and put handcuffs on me."
"I said I am an American citizen but they didn't listen to me," he said. "They took me to the warehouse behind the office. I met a lot of guys that were handcuffed there."
Oliver, who is from Nigeria and said he has been a U.S. citizen for nine years, said that he happened to have his passport in his cab and that after he presented it to ICE officials, they let him go.
He worked briefly yesterday, he said, but "I was really emotionally messed up. My leg was still shaking. It was terrible."
Oloyede, a cabbie born in Burkina Faso, West Africa, and naturalized here in 2006, said he, too, was traumatized. "I didn't know what I did wrong," he said.
Medvesky said the sting had been conducted because cabdrivers have access to areas of Philadelphia International Airport where the public doesn't normally go. "We consider this a public-safety issue. We're constantly looking for places with vulnerabilities, like the airport," he said.
He said those arrested were from the United Kingdom, Morocco, Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, Senegal, Jamaica, Ivory Coast and India.
Ronald Blount, president of the Unified Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, said that he had received different figures from the PPA but that even if the arrested drivers were illegals, the 23 were "out of a pool of 5,000 drivers."
"It's not like it's a big problem in this industry," Blount said. "At least 85 percent [of taxi drivers] are first-generation immigrants and here legally."
He said the Parking Authority itself screens cabbies every year, and they must present proof that they are here legally when their licenses come up for renewal.