ICE Arrests 280 In Texas Raid
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Federal immigration agents arrested hundreds of employees at a cellphone repair company in Allen, Texas, on charges that they were working in the U.S. illegally. Officials say it's the largest worksite raid in the country in the past decade. Stella Chavez from member station KERA in Dallas was there as the operation took place.
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STELLA CHAVEZ, BYLINE: Helicopters buzzed overhead as more than 200 law enforcement officials descended on CVE Technology Group. Outside, family members gathered and watched waiting to hear from loved ones who worked inside. Maria Soria got a call from her mom around 10 a.m.
MARIA SORIA: Then I heard the voice message. Hey. It's me. Police came in. ICE came in. I don't know what's going to happen. You know, get in contact with my lawyer, and see where things go. So I did.
CHAVEZ: Inside workers were separated by their legal status, green wristbands for those in the country legally and authorized to work. Yellow wristbands went to undocumented employees. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say they received numerous tips the company had knowingly hired undocumented workers. Katrina Berger, special agent in charge of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations, described the operation as a criminal investigation targeted at the employer. But that doesn't spare the workers.
KATRINA BERGER: I want to be very clear. We have an obligation when we conduct a worksite enforcement operation to determine alienage of all workers encountered. We cannot execute a search warrant for records and turn a blind eye to the illegal workers. The illegal workers are part of that criminal search warrant.
CHAVEZ: About 280 employees were arrested, making this ICE's largest operation at a single worksite in more than a decade. Last August, nearly 160 workers were arrested at a trailer factory in Sumner, about a hundred miles northeast of Dallas. Berger didn't specify which charges would be brought against those arrested. But they might include using fraudulent documents, misusing visas in immigration documents and identity theft.
BERGER: It's very important to note identity theft is not a victimless crime. It's especially damaging - especially to the victims who identities are stolen.
CHAVEZ: Yessenia Ponce, an employee who was released, says it felt like a normal day at work when, suddenly, people started screaming. Others were crying. An officer told them, follow my voice. They followed him to another part of the building. She shows me a piece of paper with notes scribbled on it.
YESSENIA PONCE: See this? It's like people telling me to call their families and stuff. You know? And there - it was so fast that a lot of people - you know, they were trying to give me their personal information, you know, to contact their family, but they couldn't. It just wasn't enough time.
CHAVEZ: Across the street from CVE, protesters stood with signs denouncing ICE. One sign read - ICE stop terrorizing our communities. Buses transported those arrested to holding facilities in the area.
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CHAVEZ: As they passed by, the crowd shouted - we see you; we love you. For NPR News, I'm Stella Chavez in Dallas.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.