On April 24, some 60 federal agents armed with rifles and dressed in bulletproof vests raided the Little Village Discount Mall on Chicago’s southwest side. The agents closed off exits, locked down the mall and stopped about 150 shoppers and workers. Witnesses said as many as 16 people were taken away. Baltazar Enriquez, a construction worker who was at the mall buying shoes when the raid took place, said the agents were carrying pictures of suspects and lined people up against a wall to compare them to the photos. “It was everybody who looked Latino,” he said. Marisol Iniguez, an employee at the mall, said agents kicked open bathroom doors with guns drawn. “They treated us like criminals,” she said.
Word of the raid quickly spread through Little Village, a predominantly Latino neighborhood, drawing angry community residents and immigrant rights organizers to the scene with signs, drums and megaphones. A crowd of some 300 people shut down the intersection of 26th Street and Albany Avenue for hours in a noisy protest as Chicago police directed traffic away. (Chicago Tribune, April 24, 25)
At an April 25 news conference at the Chicago US attorney’s office, Patrick Fitzgerald, US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, announced charges against 22 people in connection with the previous day’s raid, which he said targeted a massive fraudulent ID ring run out of the shopping plaza. Fitzgerald said 12 of those charged were arrested on April 24 in Chicago, though it was not clear whether the arrests took place at the mall or at one of three other raided sites. The other 10 people named in the indictment remain fugitives.
Fitzgerald was joined at the news conference by Elissa Brown, Special Agent-in-Charge of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Investigations in Chicago, Tim Viertel, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the US Secret Service, and Robert Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). According to an ICE news release, the Chicago Police Department and the US Postal Inspection Service also assisted in the investigation, which is continuing.
Fitzgerald defended the tactics used in the raid, saying authorities had to catch the suspects in the act and where they operated. He said the raid had “nothing to do” with the debate over immigration, or with immigrant rights demonstrations planned for May 1. When a reporter asked why authorities didn’t arrest the suspects in their homes, Fitzgerald snapped back: “You’re assuming we know where everyone lives, and that’s a big assumption when you’re dealing with people who make fraudulent identification.” When Chicago immigrant rights leader Emma Lozano pressed Fitzgerald with the same question, the US attorney said the agents came in during a “shift change” of runners and salespeople where more evidence could be seized. (CT, April 25; ICE news release, April 25)
During the raid, agents from ICE, FBI and Secret Service executed search warrants simultaneously at four locations, including the Nuevo Foto Munoz photo shop inside the Discount Mall. At a basement apartment about 25 blocks south of the mall, agents seized two computer towers, printers, scanners, a cutting board, hundreds of blank identification cards and approximately $1,300 in cash; authorities say the apartment was the primary office for the fake ID operation.
Agents also raided the residence of alleged ringleader Julio Leija-Sanchez in Oak Lawn, a suburb south of Chicago, and the residence of Elias Marquez, described by ICE as the operation’s “office manager and shift supervisor,” on West 64th Street on Chicago’s far south side. Leija-Sanchez is charged with conspiracy to commit murder; he allegedly ordered the killing in Mexico of a competitor and was planning the killing of another competitor. At the two residences, agents seized two laptop computers and cash preliminarily estimated in excess of $200,000. ICE did not mention whether any evidence was seized at the raided mall. (ICE news release, April 25)
Alderman Ricardo Munoz, who represents the 22nd ward that includes Little Village and whose father owns the Nuevo Foto Munoz shop in the Discount Mall, said agents confiscated two cameras from his father’s store. No charges were filed against the photo shop’s owner or employees. (CT, April 25)
From Immigration News Briefs, April 28
See our last post on the immigration crackdown.