Sunday, March 4, 2007

INB 3/4/07: Janitors Caught in National Raid; More Border Shootings

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 10, No. 5 - March 4, 2007

(Immigration News Briefs did not publish between Feb. 11 and Mar. 3. Apologies to our readers for the unanticipated lapse.)

1. Janitors Swept Up in National Raid
2. Seattle Area Warehouses Raided
3. Texas Waste Plant Raided
4. Three Killed in Border Shooting
5. Border Agents Shoot at Migrants

Immigration News Briefs is a weekly supplement to Weekly News Update on the Americas, published by Nicaragua Solidarity Network, 339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012; tel 212-674-9499; INB is also distributed free via email; contact for info. You may reprint or distribute items from INB, but please credit us and tell people how to subscribe.


On the night of Feb. 21 and early morning of Feb. 22, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested some 200 immigrant cleaning workers in raids at 63 locations in 17 states and the District of Columbia. The immigrants were employed by the Nevada-based cleaning contractor Rosenbaum-Cunningham International, Inc. (RCI) to do janitorial work at chain restaurants and hospitality venues, including such national restaurant chains such as Hard Rock Cafe, ESPN Zone, Planet Hollywood, House of Blues, Fox Sports Grill, Dave and Busters and China Grill. (Another restaurant chain, Yard House, cut ties with RCI four months earlier after being contacted by ICE investigators.) The sweep--which ICE dubbed "Operation Clean-up"--was conducted while the businesses were closed. The restaurants' parent companies were not charged.

RCI co-owners Richard M. Rosenbaum and Edward Scott Cunningham and firm controller Christina Flocken face various criminal fraud, immigration and tax charges included in a 23-count indictment, returned Feb. 15 and unsealed Feb. 22 in US District Court in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Rosenbaum was arrested on Feb. 22. The indictment alleges that RCI failed to pay $18.6 million in employment taxes on its nationwide operations between 2001 and 2005, and did not require its workers to show proof that they were authorized to work in the US. [AP 2/22/07, 2/23/07; Washington Post 2/23/07; Los Angeles Times 2/23/07; Houston Chronicle 2/23/07; ICE News Release 2/22/07; ICE chief Julie Myers Remarks at News Conference 2/22/07]

The workers arrested in the raids are from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti, ICE officials said. [Arizona Republic (Phoenix) 2/23/07] They were arrested for immigration status violations and face deportation, not criminal charges. Most are in custody, although ICE chief Julie Myers said an unspecified number were released "on humanitarian grounds" because they were the sole parent in a household. [LAT 2/23/07; ICE News Release 2/22/07]

The ICE investigation was triggered by the arrest some 20 months earlier of an out-of-status immigrant by police in Grand Rapids, Michigan. According to Hagen W. Frank, assistant US attorney for the Western District of Michigan, that man told authorities about false documents he had obtained from a state employee, Juanita "Janie" Schlagel, who was selling the Social Security numbers, dates of birth and visa numbers of real people. Schlagel in turn led investigators to Santiago Echaniz, the RCI supervisor at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa. In February 2006, ICE agents raided the resort and arrested about 20 immigrant workers. On Nov. 30, 2006, Echaniz pleaded guilty to charges of harboring out-of-status immigrants and making a false statement on a tax return. In May 2006, former RCI employees Ofmara Maltos-Trevino and Miguel Martinez-Garcia each accepted deals to plead guilty to one count of aiding and abetting the unlawful employment of aliens. Both agreed to cooperate with the investigation as part of their plea deals. Schlagel later pleaded guilty to a two-count indictment charging trafficking in means of identification. [LAT 2/23/07; Washington Times 2/23/07; Traverse City Record-Eagle (MI) 5/27/07; US Attorney's Office Western District of Michigan Press Release 12/1/06; ICE News Release 2/22/07; AP 2/22/07; WP 2/23/07] In Washington on Feb. 22, ICE chief Myers praised Grand Traverse Resort for its cooperation in the probe. "We stand ready to work with honest companies--companies like Grand Traverse Resort and Spa--who want to work with us and change their business practices and do the right thing," said Myers. [LAT 2/23/07]


On Feb. 15, ICE agents acting on a federal civil inspection warrant arrested 51 immigrant workers in raids on two customs-bonded warehouses operated by UPS Supply Chain Solutions in the Seattle suburb of Auburn, Washington. Most of the detained workers were temporary laborers; many worked for Spherion Corp., a labor contracting firm which provides temporary employees for UPS Supply Chain Solutions. The warehouses are storage facilities licensed to handle imported goods; ICE claims they are critical infrastructure facilities, in the same category as airports and military bases. The raids were triggered by an ICE audit of the employment records of UPS Supply Chain Solutions and Spherion, following a routine employment compliance exam by US Customs and Border Protection. A spokesperson said the audit revealed discrepancies that made agents believe a number of the company's employees had used counterfeit identity, including fraudulent Social Security numbers, to obtain their jobs.

"I want to emphasize that there have been no charges filed against UPS, but this is an ongoing investigation," said ICE spokesperson Lorie Dankers. "Everyone apprehended today was apprehended on an administrative immigration violation, meaning that they were not picked up on criminal charges." [Seattle Post-Intelligencer 2/15/07] UPS spokesperson Susan Rosenberg said UPS will conduct its own investigation. "UPS has policies regarding unauthorized employment for ourselves and any contractors that we work with," she said. [Seattle Times 2/15/07]

Four of the arrested workers were from Guatemala and three were from El Salvador; the others were from Mexico. [SP-I 2/15/07] By Feb. 15, ten workers had convinced authorities of personal and family hardships and were released from the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma with orders to appear before an immigration judge, said Dankers, the ICE spokesperson. The others remained in custody.

Immigrant rights advocates and religious leaders condemned the warehouse raids at a press conference on Feb. 15, and called for a moratorium on such raids until Congress can reform the nation's immigration system. El Comite Pro-Amnistia, an immigrant justice group, said that if no moratorium is imposed, it will launch a local sanctuary effort by the end of March as part of a national campaign. "If there is no response, then sanctuary is the next step," said the Very Rev. Robert Taylor, dean of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral Church. Taylor, who came to the US as a political exile from South Africa, revealed that he lived as an out-of-status immigrant for three years during the 1980s. [ST 2/16/07]


Early on Jan. 31, ICE agents backed by helicopters raided the Republic Waste Services plant in Humble, Texas, a suburb of Houston, detaining 53 suspected undocumented workers. ICE officials said the workers would be placed into removal proceedings to be returned to their countries of origin, which include Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Since 2005, Republic Waste had been participating in ICE's Basic Pilot Program, which is designed to help employers check applicants' immigration status.

Will Flower, a spokesperson for the Florida-based company, said the raid resulted in the detention of Republic Waste employees and workers from temporary agencies. "I feel badly that [ICE] had to spend these resources because they could have come out at any time and gotten the same response," said Flower. "We've always been very open with them. We believe we are in compliance with all applicable laws, rules and regulations." [Houston Chronicle 2/1/07]

On Feb. 3, about 40 immigrant rights activists protested the Republic Waste raid with a demonstration outside an ICE detention center in North Houston. The protest was organized by the "Coalition in Defense of the Community" to demand a moratorium on raids. Another 40 or so people staged a counter- protest, organized by "US Border Watch" and the Houston chapter of the "Minutemen." [HC 2/4/07]


Before dawn on Feb. 8, near Silverbell, Arizona, two men fired high-powered assault rifles at a pickup truck carrying migrants who had just crossed the border on their way to Phoenix. Three migrants--one Mexican man, one Guatemalan man and one Mexican woman--were killed, and one woman was seriously wounded. The alleged guide leading the trip, a man from Mexico, was shot in the hand and is under arrest. The driver of the pickup and some two dozen other migrants remain missing. Four witnesses who survived have told conflicting stories about the details about the shooting. It is not clear whether the attack was the work of rival smugglers, extremist vigilantes or what are known as bajadores--crews of bandits who steal human cargo from smugglers to extort ransom from migrants' families. [Washington Post 2/19/07; Arizona Daily Star 2/28/07; New York Times 2/9/07]

A few days after the assault near Silverbell, two men were found dead in the desert west of Phoenix. The week of Feb. 12, Pima County authorities found a body in the desert; the person had apparently been dead for two weeks. Authorities believe all three deaths were connected to smuggling.

On Jan. 28, a truckload of illegal immigrants was ambushed in the desert near Eloy, and the driver of the truck was shot to death. Migrants who witnessed the attack said the assailants were several armed men wearing camouflage clothing and military-style berets. Three were white; one was described as a Hispanic who spoke limited Spanish. Activists believe the assailants were anti-immigrant vigilantes. [WP 2/19/07; Arizona Republic (Linda Valdez opinion column) 2/18/07; New York Times 2/9/07]


On Feb. 13, a Border Patrol agent fired at least one shot at a group of migrants along the border near downtown El Paso, Texas. Doug Mosier, a spokesperson for the Border Patrol's El Paso Sector, said the agent, who was not identified, fired at the migrants after some of them began throwing rocks at him. The migrants ran south from the border after the agent fired. Border Patrol officials do not believe anyone was injured; Mexican authorities who responded to the scene in Mexico also did not report any injuries, Mosier said. The shooting is under investigation. [Associated Press 2/14/07]

On Feb. 20, a Border Patrol agent opened fire on a migrant in a similar incident near Otay Lakes, California. According to Border Patrol Agent Wendi Lee, the agent fired one shot when the migrant picked up a rock and cocked back an arm as if to throw it at him; nobody was reported injured, and the migrant escaped. [North County Times (CA) 2/21/07]

On Feb. 21, a Border Patrol agent shot and wounded a man at a gas station in Rio Rico, near Nogales in Santa Cruz County, Arizona. According to County Sheriff Tony Estrada, the man was shot after he became argumentative and threatened a group of agents with rocks. The man was flown to a Tucson hospital, where he was reported in stable condition with a wound in his arm and a grazing wound in his torso, Estrada said. The FBI is investigating the victim on suspicion of assaulting a federal officer. The Border Patrol agent who fired the shots has been placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard agency protocol, said Border Patrol Tucson Sector spokesperson Gustavo Soto. [Arizona Daily Star (Tucson) 2/22/07]

On Feb. 24, a Border Patrol agent fired at an oncoming sport utility vehicle on Arizona highway 286 just north of the Sasabe port of entry. One person who was in the vehicle at the time apparently suffered minor injuries and is now in custody on unspecified charges. It was not clear whether the person was wounded by gunfire. Another passenger in the vehicle was also taken into custody. Border Patrol spokesperson Jesus Rodriguez said agents found 1,300 pounds of drugs in the SUV. The agent has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into the shooting. [Arizona Daily Star (Tucson) 2/26/07]

The latest non-fatal shootings come just over a month after a Border Patrol agent shot and killed Mexican migrant Francisco Javier Dominguez Rivera in southern Arizona on Jan. 12. [See INB 2/4/07--note that we incorrectly reported that Dominguez was "from the town of Cuautla in the southern Mexican state of Puebla." Cuautla is in Morelos state, just southwest of Puebla. The confusion arose because news sources reported that Dominguez was from Puebla, and that his family buried him in the town where they lived, Cuautla. According to the Mexican daily La Jornada, the family was originally from Puebla but had relocated to Cuautla. [LJ 1/21/07]]


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