Huge ICE raid at Houston clothing company

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 US 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, June 2, 26; ICE news release, June 25; New York Times, June 26; KHOU-TV, Houston, June 26)

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, June 26)

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, June 26; KHOU-TV, June 26)

From Immigration News Briefs, June 29

See our last post on the politics of immigration.