On Sept. 17, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (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, Sept. 18)
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, Sept. 20)
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, Sept. 18) 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, Sept. 18) (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, Sept. 18)
Southern California bakery raided
On Sept. 10, ICE agents raided the Palm Springs Baking Company in Palm Springs, Calif., 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, Calif. 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, Sept. 10; Desert Sun, Palm Springs, Sept. 11, 12)
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, Sept. 11)
From Immigration News Briefs, Sept. 20