Sunday, June 29, 2008

INB 6/29/08: Raids at Houston Rag Company, Washington Aerospace Plant

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 11, No. 14 - June 29, 2008

1. Houston Clothing Company Raided
2. Washington Aerospace Plant Raided
3. Tennessee Restaurants Raided
4. "Fugitive" Raids in Midwest

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Early on June 25, some 200 agents from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided Action Rags USA, an international supplier of used clothing and rags in Houston, Texas. The ICE agents executed a federal search warrant at the plant and arrested 166 workers for administrative immigration violations. According to ICE, 135 of the arrested workers are from Mexico, 12 are from Honduras, 10 from Guatemala, eight from El Salvador, and the nationality of one is unknown.

Late on June 25, ICE officials confirmed that 130 of the 166 workers detained were female. ICE released 66 workers, including 10 who are pregnant, for humanitarian reasons such as medical and child care issues. The number of detainees released for humanitarian reasons was later revised to 73. ICE officials said four workers were taken to area hospitals after suffering from anxiety attacks and heat-related illness (the Action Rags plant is not air-conditioned); another woman was transported by helicopter to a local hospital after she fell 20 feet off a stack of wooden pallets in which she was hiding. "Right now, we're still trying to secure the interior because we found several individuals trying to locate hiding spaces inside," said Greg Palmore, spokesperson for ICE in Houston, on June 25.

ICE let 16 Action Rags workers go free after realizing that "[o]ne was a U.S. citizen and another 15 were here in status and are legally authorized to work," explained Bob Rutt, ICE special agent in charge in Houston. Rutt later revised those numbers, telling the New York Times that two US citizens and 13 to 19 legal residents were among those initially questioned during the raid. (These individuals were not counted among the 166 arrested workers.)

ICE began investigating Action Rags USA a year ago after learning about hiring practices from a former employee. Rutt said no member of the company's management has been arrested, but he confirmed that "the [ICE] office of investigation is looking at allegations of the hiring of illegal aliens, which is a crime." Arresting unauthorized workers was "a collateral part" of the investigation, said Rutt. "Our focus, ICE's overall focus, is targeting the employer." During the 2007 fiscal year, ICE made 863 criminal arrests and 4,077 administrative arrests nationally as a result of worksite enforcement, according to the agency’s statistics. [Houston Chronicle 6/25/08, 6/26/08; ICE News Release 6/25/08; New York Times 6/26/08; KHOU-TV (Houston) 6/26/08]

Action Rags lost its corporate status in July 2007 due to a tax forfeiture, according to Texas Secretary of State records. The records listed Mubarik Kahlon as the company's registered agent and director. Secretary of State spokesperson Scott Haywood confirmed that Action Rags is no longer a registered LLC in Texas. [HC 6/26/08]

On June 26, dozens of people protested the previous day's raid with a demonstration outside the Mickey Leland Federal Building in downtown Houston. "Our question to the federal government is very simple," said Mike Espinosa with Houston Justice for Janitors. "How does putting a working woman in jail keep this country safer?" Protesters also said ICE should be held responsible for the injuries the workers suffered during the raid. [KPRC Local 2 (Houston) 6/26/08; KHOU-TV 6/26/08]


On June 26, ICE agents executed a federal civil search warrant at an aircraft manufacturing plant in Arlington, Washington, arresting 32 of the company's workers–16 women and 16 men--on administrative immigration violations. Two of the workers are from El Salvador; the others are from Mexico. The raid took place at Aerospace Manufacturing Technologies, Inc. (AMT), a leading supplier of frame and interior parts for commercial and military aircraft. AMT provides many of the parts used in airplanes such as the Boeing 737 and Boeing 777. About 360 workers were at the job site when ICE agents showed up.

The probe into AMT began months earlier after ICE received a tip that the business was using undocumented workers, said ICE spokesperson Lorie Dankers. ICE then audited AMT's employment records, which revealed discrepancies leading agents to believe that a small percentage of the company's employees used counterfeit documents to secure their jobs. According to ICE, there is no evidence AMT was aware that the workers had used false credentials. The investigation is ongoing and the company is cooperating, said Dankers. "We'll go where the evidence leads us," she said.

Four female workers were released on humanitarian grounds because they are primary caregivers to children. The other 28 workers were taken to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. [ICE News Release 6/26/08; Lynnwood Enterprise 6/27/08; 710 KIRO Radio 6/26/08]

A day earlier, on June 25, the Northwest Detention Center ended a six-day quarantine and lockdown that affected more than 900 of the 1,000 detainees held at the facility. The quarantine was imposed after one detainee fell ill with chickenpox; a second detainee showed signs of the infection on June 20. Doctors determined that all but 80 of the approximately 760 male detainees were immune from the disease after blood tests showed evidence of either the vaccine or a previous exposure. The 240 female detainees didn't require testing because they're segregated from the male population.

Court cases for detainees who are immune to chickenpox resumed on June 24, and deportations were to start again as early as June 25, said ICE spokesperson Lorie Dankers. Visits from friends, family members and attorneys were to resume on June 26. Detainees who aren't immune to chickenpox will be quarantined through July 7. During that time, they can't be deported or receive visitors. Detainees who arrived after June 24 were being placed into the same residence pods as immune detainees. [News Tribune (Tacoma) 6/25/08]


On June 17, ICE agents raided three Chinese restaurants in central Tennessee owned by restaurant entrepreneur Stanley Wang, arresting a total of about 50 workers from Mexico, the People's Republic of China, El Salvador, Guatemala, Malaysia and Indonesia. The raids took place at the New Famous Chinese Restaurant in Nashville, Chef Wang's in Murfreesboro and the Famous Chinese Restaurant in Smyrna. [The Tennessean 6/19/08; Murfreesboro Post 6/19/08]

According to employees at Chef Wang's, agents entered the restaurant around 11am. "It was pretty weird. They took all the Hispanics from the back and were, like, frisking them, and they put them all in cuffs, set them down in the dining room and were talking to them in Spanish," said Brigitte Barbeau. At least 12 people were taken away, the employees said. "It was pretty dramatic. These are people that we work with every day. You know, we're like family here," said Stacy Cox. [ 6/18/08]

Federal agents, along with the Murfreesboro Police Department, also conducted an investigation at a Murfreesboro home in relation to the raids. Milissa Reierson, a spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said her department participated in the enforcement effort. The Metro Nashville Police Department and the Tennessee Highway Patrol also assisted. [The Tennessean 6/19/08; Murfreesboro Post 6/19/08]

It was not clear whether the Tennessee raids were connected to grand jury indictments handed down Apr. 15 in US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia [see INB 4/27/08]. The indictments charged 15 people from Georgia employment agencies with conspiring to supply undocumented workers to Chinese restaurants in a number of eastern states, including Tennessee. [Murfreesboro Post 6/19/08]


Over a five-day period ending June 24, ICE Fugitive Operations Teams carried out a series of coordinated sweeps through southeast Wisconsin, the Chicago metropolitan area, southwestern Kansas and central Nebraska, arresting a total of 158 people, of whom fewer than 90 were "fugitives" who have failed to comply with deportation orders.

In Wisconsin, ICE arrested 38 people in Milwaukee, Kenosha and Racine counties, describing 16 of them as "fugitives" and 22 as "immigration violators encountered by ICE officers during their targeted arrests." Those arrested are from Albania, China, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Ukraine and Yugoslavia. [ICE News Release 6/25/08] In its Chicago press release, ICE gave the total number arrested in the Wisconsin sweeps as 32.

In Chicago, Highland Park, Waukegan, Highwood, and elsewhere in the Chicago metropolitan area, ICE arrested 43 immigrants from Albania, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Jordan, Mexico, Poland and Yugoslavia. ICE described 25 of those arrested as fugitives and 18 as immigration violators; 20 reportedly had prior criminal convictions. [ICE News Release 6/25/08]

In southwestern Kansas, ICE arrested 33 people in Garden City and 15 in Dodge City. Those arrested included five women and came from El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Vietnam. ICE reported that 33 of the 48 people arrested had criminal convictions, but did not say how many were considered "fugitives." (Calculations based on conflicting figures in ICE’s Garden City and Chicago press releases suggest that somewhere between 14 and 20 of the 48 people arrested in Kansas were considered "fugitives" while 28 to 34 of the total were immigration violators.) ICE spokesperson Carl Rusnok said most of the immigrants were arrested at their homes, but a few were arrested at work. He did not know whether any of the arrests occurred at the area's beef-packing plants. [ICE News Release 6/25/08; Dodge Globe 6/27/08]

[Garden City and Dodge City both have major meatpacking plants which employ large numbers of immigrants. During nationwide mobilizations for immigrant rights on Apr. 10, 2006, some 3,000-4,000 people marched in Garden City, a town with an estimated population of 28,000, while 2,000 marched in Dodge City, population 26,000. See INB 6/16/06.]

The raids were supervised out of the ICE office in Chicago, which oversees operations in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky. [ICE News Release 6/25/08]

In central Nebraska, ICE arrested 44 immigrants from Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador. Most were arrested in Lexington (25 arrests) and Grand Island (12 arrests); two people were arrested in Broken Bow and one person was arrested in each of the following towns: Cozad, Gibbon, Hastings, Kearney and North Platte. Of the total, 28 were considered "fugitives" and 16 were described as immigration violators; 10 had criminal convictions. The Nebraska raids were coordinated out of the ICE Office of Detention and Removal Operations in Bloomington, Minnesota, which oversees operations in Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota. [ICE News Release 6/25/08]


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