The Dallas Morning News
Nearly 300 people suspected of working in the U.S. illegally were arrested Wednesday at an Allen business in what federal authorities called the largest enforcement operation of its kind in a decade.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said investigators had received tips that people who are in the country illegally or using fake ID documents were employed at CVE Technology Group, a company that refurbishes cellphones and other technology.
Authorities served a search warrant at the business and four of its staffing companies at a building on Enterprise Drive near East Bethany Drive and U.S. Highway 75.
The agency did not release a breakdown of the ages or nationalities of the approximately 280 people who were taken into custody.
Katrina W. Berger, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations’ Dallas office, said the number of people taken into custody Wednesday was the most at a single site in a decade. In 2008, 398 people were arrested at an Iowa slaughterhouse.
Berger declined to discuss what charges or fines the company’s management might face, but she said the raid was part of a larger, ongoing investigation.
Employers previously found by ICE to have “abusive and exploitative” hiring practices have faced charges including alien harboring, alien smuggling, conspiracy and money laundering.
Representatives for CVE could not be reached for comment.
Dallas immigration attorney Eric Puente said raids like Wednesday’s have become more common during Donald Trump’s presidency after falling out of use during the Bush and Obama administrations.
“This administration has moved away from audits and started using these tactics of raids that I hadn’t seen since I was a child,” he said. “I think the raid is more of a sensational way of reaching a certain objective, but I don’t know what the government’s objective is.”
CVE moved its headquarters from Riverdale, N.J., to the Allen business park in 2014. It planned to have at least 1,200 workers there by the end of 2015, though it’s unclear how many people were employed at the Allen facility this year.
Among its services, the company refurbishes electronics, including cellphones, projectors and DVD players, for clients who resell the products.
CVE, which also has locations in Plano and New Jersey, recycles electronics and reclaims usable parts, according to its website.
At least a hundred people gathered outside the company’s Allen headquarters Wednesday. Some were relatives and friends of employees, waiting to hear word from inside the building. Others, like 19-year-old Allen resident Luis Martinez, came to protest.
“It’s just something drastic, something you don’t see every day in Allen, in Collin County,” said Martinez, who held a neon-green sign that read “No Human Is Illegal!”
People at the company were wearing one of three colored wristbands: green for authorized employees, blue for law enforcement personnel and yellow for people who were suspected of working illegally.
ICE agents searched and handcuffed the people with yellow wristbands and escorted them onto at least four buses behind the building.
As the first bus drove past the crowd outside about 2 p.m., some waved while one of the protesters picked up a megaphone.
“We see you, we love you,” he repeated in English, and again in Spanish.
A larger investigation
Federal authorities audited the company’s employment records in January and “confirmed numerous hiring violations,” ICE officials said in a written release.
The investigation has lasted about a year, Berger said.
“Businesses that knowingly hire illegal aliens create an unfair advantage over their competing businesses,” she said. “In addition, they take jobs away from U.S. citizens and legal residents, and they create an atmosphere poised for exploiting their illegal workforce.”
About 200 law enforcement officials took part in Wednesday’s operation in Allen. Medical personnel were on hand in case any of the people arrested needed treatment. ICE personnel patrolled the area as helicopters flew above.
‘These are families’
Allen police were on the scene to help with traffic enforcement, and offered bottled water to the protesters and family members waiting across the street from the company’s headquarters.
One woman, with a baby carrier and a plastic bag containing papers and what appeared to be a passport, was talking to a group of women when her phone rang. She stepped away, listened, then collapsed to the ground in tears.
A representative from RAICES, a nonprofit organization that provides legal services to immigrants, was handing out “Know your rights” cards.
Farheen Siddiqi, senior staff attorney for the group, said the people who had been detained weren’t committing a “high-level crime.”
“These are families. These are community members,” she said.
A woman, recording the scene on Facebook Live, briefly stopped one of the buses by stepping in front of it. An officer waved her back to the sidewalk, and the bus left the scene.
Berger said ICE staff members interviewed the people who were arrested to determine whether they were eligible for release, based on whether they had a criminal record or posed a flight risk.
For example, people were asked whether they were the sole caregivers of children. Berger said anyone who answered yes probably would be released. If that person had a criminal record, though, officials would try to find a relative or friend to take care of the child, Berger said. Putting a child in the care of CPS would be a final option.
Everyone who was arrested will be fingerprinted and processed for removal from the country, according to ICE.
Berger said the detainees have access to a toll-free number to call diplomatic services in their country of origin or seek legal help. She encouraged family members of those arrested to call 1-888-351-4024, a 24-hour hotline to find detainees.
Puente, the immigration attorney, said people without immigration documents who were taken into custody Wednesday will be able to request bond in two to three weeks — the first step in making their case to stay in the U.S. by showing they are not dangerous and are valuable members of their community.
At a later hearing, individuals appear before a federal immigration judge and can make an initial case for relief from deportation, whether through a pending application for citizenship or by identifying a family member who is a citizen.
RAICES said it would offer anyone affected free consultations at its offices in downtown and northwest Dallas. Attorney Felix Villalobos said that though the group normally sees about four cases a day, it had 26 consultations set up by early Wednesday evening.
“It’s going to be an all-hands-on-deck kind of day tomorrow,” Villalobos said.
Reunion for some
At an ICE office near Dallas Love Field, where some of the workers were being processed, a long chainlink fence separated those arrested from their loved ones outside. There was lots of chatter, mostly in Spanish, as traffic rumbled by on Interstate 35E. Activists handed out cookies and other snacks while they waited for updates from inside the facility.
Sergio Villanueva, 41, of Carrollton paced anxiously, peering through the slits in the fence in hopes of catching a glimpse of his wife, Sara Villanueva.
They married in November and Sergio, a U.S. citizen, said they were working on filing to adjust her status. Sara has no criminal record, and Sergio expected her to be released Wednesday night.
She texted him to let him know what was happening when ICE agents arrived at CVE. Sergio rushed to the building about 10 a.m. but was unable to see her. He was then told to go to the ICE holding facility in Dallas to wait.
“I feel such impotence not being able to do anything. I just want to know what to do,” Villanueva said.
Jose Torres, 21, was relieved to be reunited with his mother after she was released from the ICE facility Wednesday evening.
He said he was about to go to work about 11 a.m. when his mother, who declined to give her name, told him about the raid at CVE, where she had worked cleaning the building for more than two years.
She heard alarms going off and thought there was a fire. People were screaming and trying to get out, she told him.
When she was released just after 6 p.m., Torres’ mother was still in her CVE uniform, holding a sandwich she had been given.
Torres said he had already been making plans to find a lawyer for his mother, who is from Mexico, so she could keep working.
“I know my mom always has her records clean,” he said.
Valerie Trevino, 24, spoke on the phone as she waited for her mother, Graciela Velazquez, to be released.
Trevino’s mother sneaked away to her locker at work before she was detained and had just enough time to tell Trevino about the raid. Velazquez moved from Mexico 25 years ago and has worked for the company for years, Trevino said.
Trevino was distraught that someone like her mom, who she said doesn’t have a criminal record, would be rounded up in a large-scale raid.
“It’s insane to just get people who are working to make a living,” she said. “They’ve done nothing wrong besides work. My mom’s worked her entire life here. So other than that, I mean what really is her crime?”
Staff writers Sarah Sarder, Dana Branham, Claire Z. Cardona, Obed Manuel and LaVendrick Smith contributed to this report.
©2019 The Dallas Morning News
Visit The Dallas Morning News at www.dallasnews.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.