US immigration agents arrested more than 280 suspected unauthorized employees Wednesday in a raid on a phone equipment repair business in Texas, the largest such sweep at a single worksite in more than a decade, officials said.
Agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations division made the arrests after serving search warrants at CVE Technology Group and four of its staffing companies in Allen, a Dallas suburb. Authorities said the operation was part of an ongoing criminal investigation and that they were acting on tips that the company may have knowingly hired workers with fake documents.
The arrests Wednesday are part of the Trump administration’s renewed focus on cracking down on businesses suspected of employing undocumented workers. ICE officials have said that employers who hire undocumented workers gain an “unfair advantage” over others and take jobs from US citizens and legal residents.
In the last fiscal year, ICE agents made nearly 10 times as many immigration arrests at workplaces than they did in the previous fiscal year. In August 2018, ICE agents in Texas arrested 160 undocumented workers at a trailer manufacturer.
John Sandweg, former acting director of ICE during the Obama administration, said such a large number of individuals being arrested would add further strain to an already overwhelmed immigration system. Immigration courts have a backlog of hundreds of thousands of deportation cases, detention capacity has been limited, and resources continue to be focused on the flows of migrants coming to the border.
“This is not the kind of place where you’re going to find public safety threats or those threatening the integrity of the border, and while I certainly support robust enforcement against employers who cheat, the focus of limited immigration resources on people who may not pose a public safety threat is a waste of resources,” he said.
Such raids were once more common. ICE agents arrested nearly 400 workers at a meat processing plant in Postville, Iowa, in May 2008, the last operation that netted more arrests at a single worksite. The Obama administration, however, cut back on large sweeps.
“Businesses that knowingly hire illegal aliens create an unfair advantage over their competing businesses,” said Katrina W. Berger, special agent in charge of HSI’s Dallas field office. “In addition, they take jobs away from U.S. citizens and legal residents, and they create an atmosphere poised for exploiting their illegal workforce.”
Advocates, such as Farheen Siddiqi, a senior staff attorney with RAICES, which provides legal services to immigrants, said the raid would have a devastating impact on community members.
“There are many families that are impacted by this,” she said, noting that she witnessed children standing outside, near the site of Wednesday’s raid. “They were feeling helpless.”
When buses transporting the arrested immigrants departed the office parking lot, families at the scene grew even more distraught, Siddiqi said.
“It was a really disheartening situation,” she said. “They were in shock. They were asking, ‘what do I do?’”