Saturday, September 20, 2008

INB 9/20/08: California Bakery, Restaurants Raided; Raids in Chicago

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 11, No. 23 - September 20, 2008

1. Southern California Bakery Raided
2. Northern California Restaurants Raided
3. Chicago Neighborhood Raided, Again
4. “Fugitive” Raids in Chicago Area
5. “Fugitive” Raids in Colorado

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On Sept. 10, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided the Palm Springs Baking Company in Palm Springs, California, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles. ICE agents executed a federal search warrant at the bakery and arrested 51 workers on administrative immigration violations. More than 60 officials from ICE and the federal Food and Drug Administration participated in the raid. Agents arrived in 10 passenger vans, blocking driveways and doors to prevent workers from leaving.

All but two of the 31 women and 20 men arrested were from Mexico; one worker was from Guatemala and one was from Honduras. ICE released 24 workers because of childcare or health issues and transferred the other 27 people to an ICE contract detention facility operated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department in Lancaster, California. Eleven of the 27 people who were detained were released the following day, Sept. 11, with electronic monitoring devices on their ankles, according to the Desert Sun newspaper. The paper cited ICE spokesperson Lori Haley as saying that the remaining 16 workers are being held as witnesses in the case.

ICE agents also arrested a current and a former company supervisor on one criminal count each of continuing to employ an unauthorized alien. According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal arrest warrants, local law enforcement alerted ICE in 2006 about an extortion scheme in which the Palm Springs Baking Company was allegedly guaranteeing employment to unauthorized workers in exchange for a payment of approximately $3,000 for each worker. During the ensuing investigation, ICE agents submitted the names and Social Security numbers of more than 130 of the company's employees for verification and were advised that more than 100 of those numbers were invalid or did not match the accompanying name. The complaint also alleges that the bakery's employees were forced to work in the heat without water and that supervisors threatened to call immigration on those who complained about the conditions. [ICE News Release 9/10/08; Desert Sun (Palm Springs) 9/11/08, 9/12/08]

Palm Springs Baking Company CEO Brandon Tesmer said the company did nothing wrong. "We've worked with INS in the past," Tesmer said, referring to the immigration agency by its pre-2003 name, Immigration and Naturalization Service. "We'll work with them now. We've done everything right." [Desert Sun 9/11/08]


On Sept. 17, ICE special agents executed federal criminal search warrants at four sites in the northern California towns of Vacaville, Vallejo and Hercules–-in the North Bay area northeast of San Francisco--as part of an investigation into the hiring and possible harboring of unauthorized workers at local Chinese restaurants. The raided sites included the King's Buffet restaurant in Vacaville, one Vacaville residence, the Empire Buffet in Vallejo and one Vallejo residence. Agents also conducted what ICE called "a consensual search"--without a warrant--at a home in Hercules. [ICE News Release 9/18/08]

Authorities are also investigating a second outlet of the Empire Buffet in San Pablo. That restaurant wasn't searched on Sept. 17 because it wasn't open, most likely because agents had already rounded up its workers, said ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice. [San Francisco Chronicle 9/20/08]

ICE agents apparently made no criminal arrests but arrested 21 workers on administrative immigration violations. Thirteen of those arrested were picked up at the restaurants and eight were discovered at the residences, which were owned by individuals affiliated with the restaurants. [ICE News Release 9/18/08] According to ICE, six people were arrested at the Hercules residence; seven were arrested at Empire Buffet in Vallejo; and two were arrested at the Vallejo residence. [Vallejo Times-Herald 9/18/08] [This suggests that ICE arrested six people at King's Buffet in Vacaville and made no arrests at the Vacaville residence.]

According to the affidavit filed in support of the search warrants, the investigation began after local law enforcement responded to a citizen's call about suspicious activity at the Vacaville residence. Agents subsequently uncovered alleged evidence that unauthorized workers from King's Buffet were being housed at the Vacaville home, while unauthorized workers from Empire Buffet were living at the Vallejo residence. Agents said it appeared all of the homes were being used to house significant numbers of people. According to the affidavit, investigators also determined that some of the workers were paid in cash and that wage information about those workers was not being reported to the California Employment Development Department as required by law.

The arrested workers are from five countries: nine are from China, five from Mexico, three from Guatemala, two from Indonesia, one from Singapore and one from Honduras. Those arrested were processed at the ICE office in Sacramento; one person was released on humanitarian grounds pending a future hearing before an immigration judge. The others were transferred to ICE contract detention facilities in northern California to await their hearings in immigration court. [ICE News Release 9/18/08]


On Sept. 18, ICE agents raided several homes and apartment buildings in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood in an operation targeting people who allegedly produce and sell fake identity documents. ICE agents executed search warrants simultaneously at five locations in the area: an office where fraudulent identification documents were allegedly produced; two residences; and two photo studios which allegedly produced photos for fake documents. Activists on the scene reported that ICE agents stormed buildings, hid in garages and interrogated people on the street. Word of the raid spread quickly; tensions in the heavily Mexican neighborhood have been high since ICE made dozens of arrests at a Little Village shopping mall in April 2007 in a similar operation targeting a false document ring [see INB 4/28/07]. [Associated Press 9/18/08; ICE News Release 9/19/08]

José Landaverde, the pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Anglican church in Little Village, said he was questioned during the raids by agents who asked to see his mica, a slang term for green card. Landaverde said he was visiting the local alderman's office to pick up a block-party permit. "When I walked outside the office, three officers of Immigration approached me and put me on top of my car, and then searched me," said Landaverde. "And they said, 'I want to see your documents, mica.' And then I said, 'I don't have any mica, but I have my United States passport because I'm a United States citizen.' When he saw the passport, he gave it back to me right away and he said, 'Go away.'"

On 26th Street, the neighborhood's main drag, Landaverde said immigration agents "were stopping everyone who was walking on the sidewalk and saying, 'Lay down on the floor, searching you, give me your documentation.' If you didn't have it, they were taking you." [WBEZ (Chicago Public Radio) 9/19/08]

Landaverde held a press conference on Sept. 19 to denounce the raid. "The agents showed up in the neighborhood starting at 9pm on Tuesday [Sept. 16], with helicopters and guns, and they have been terrorizing the community and taking away innocent people," said Landaverde. At the press conference, Landaverde introduced Josefina Pérez, a mother of six children who said her husband, Héctor Medina, was arrested in the street during the raids. "He was walking with his cousin and the agents arrested him, accusing him of being a false document seller when in fact he works all day doing auto body repair," said Pérez. [El Financiero (Mexico) 9/19/08 with information from Notimex/JOT]

It was not clear how many people were arrested in the raid. An ICE news release said the operation was a followup to the April 2007 sweep at the Little Village mall--targeting a competing ring of false document producers who stepped in to pick up extra business after those arrests. The news release said that on Sept. 18 "ICE agents began arresting up to 21 new defendants," and that 21 people were charged on Sept. 19 in two federal court indictments with conspiring to produce false identification documents. The news release cites US Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Northern District of Illinois, and Gary J. Hartwig, special agent-in-charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Chicago, as saying that 15 of the defendants named in the two indictments had been arrested in Chicago since the night of Sept. 16, while six are fugitives. [Note that both Landaverde and ICE say the arrests began on the night of Sept. 16, while ICE reports that the search warrants were not served until Sept. 18.] [ICE News Release 9/19/08] ICE said it will continue searching Little Village indefinitely searching for more people implicated in the production and sale of false documents. [El Financiero 9/19/08 with information from Notimex/JOT]


From Sept. 12 to 15, agents from four ICE Fugitive Operations Teams arrested 144 people in Chicago and nearby areas in an operation targeting people who have failed to comply with deportation orders. (ICE calls such people "fugitives" or "absconders.") Of those arrested, 110 had final orders of deportation; 34 were people without legal immigration status who were encountered by ICE officers during the raids. Those arrested during the four-day operation are from 26 countries: Albania, Belize, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Lithuania, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Russia and Yugoslavia.

The arrests took place in Chicago; in the Illinois communities of Beach Park, Country Club Hills, Gurnee, Grayslake, Harwood Heights, Libertyville, North Chicago, Nottingham Park, Round Lake, Skokie, Waukegan, Willowbrook and Zion; and in the northern Indiana cities of Elkhart, Goshen, Mishawaka, Nappanee and South Bend. The US Marshals Service Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force assisted ICE with the operation. [ICE News Release 9/17/08]

In Chicago, immigrant advocates called the raids an emblem of a broken system that has separated thousands of families through deportation. As part of Citizenship Day, activists protested on Sept. 17 in Grant Park against increased fees for US citizenship applications; the filing fee for such applications jumped from $400 to $675 on July 30, 2007. Advocates say the increased fees have reduced the number of legal residents applying for citizenship. In Chicago, applications for US citizenship dropped 39% during the first four months of the year compared with the same period last year, according to the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. [Chicago Tribune 9/18/08]


From Sept. 12 to 16, agents from ICE Fugitive Operations Teams arrested 59 immigrants in 14 Colorado cities. Only 30 of the 59 people arrested had failed to comply with deportation orders; the other 29 were people without legal immigration status who were encountered by ICE during the raids. Of the total 59 people arrested, 20 had criminal convictions. The arrests took place in Aurora, Aspen, Basalt, Canyon City, Carbondale, Colorado Springs, Cortez, Craig, Denver, Durango, El Jebel, Glenwood Springs, Pueblo and Thornton. [ICE News Release 9/18/08]


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