Updated 10:12 p.m. E.T.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 280 employees at a technology repair company in Collin County, Texas, on charges of working in the United States illegally. It’s the largest worksite raid in the country in more than a decade, according to a Homeland Security Investigations official.
ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations division received tips that the company — CVE Technology Group — may have knowingly hired undocumented immigrants and that several workers were using fraudulent identification documents, said Katrina Berger, special agent in charge in HSI’s Dallas office.
Hiring irregularities found during an audit of the company’s I-9 forms confirmed those tips. CVE hasn’t responded to media requests for comment.
Federal hiring laws require that employers have new hires fill out I-9 forms. The laws perform “necessary and common sense functions,” Berger said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“They ensure U.S. citizens and legal U.S. residents are hired for jobs in the U.S.,” Berger said. “They also ensure that illegal workers are not preyed upon or paid less than the going wage or otherwise coerced or cheated or subjected to unsafe working conditions without any means of complaint.”
Businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers “create an atmosphere poised for exploiting an illegal workforce,” Berger said.
CVE employee Yessenia Ponce was inside the building when agents arrived.
“Man, it was crazy,” she said. “We were working like a normal day. … We just heard screaming, you know, people screaming and stuff. We went out and an officer just said ‘follow my voice, follow my voice.’ ”
In the past year, North Texas has been the site of the two largest single-site workplace raids in the U.S. in the last decade.
Prior to Wednesday’s raid in Allen, 159 undocumented workers were arrested in the small Northeast Texas town of Sumner at a trailer manufacturer.
The largest workplace raid to ever take place in the U.S. was in Postville, Iowa, in May of 2008, where almost 400 undocumented workers were arrested.
What’s next for the arrested employees
The workers arrested on Wednesday will first be interviewed by ICE, who will make note of “humanitarian situations” such as medical needs, or if a worker is the sole caretaker of another person such as a child.
Based on those interviews, ICE will decide who remains in immediate custody and who can be considered for temporary humanitarian release.
Either way, ICE said in a statement that “in all cases, all illegal aliens encountered will be fingerprinted and processed for removal from the United States.”
Families wait outside during the raid
Late Wednesday morning, workers inside the repair plant began texting and calling family members, who arrived outside the building and waited for information. One of them got a text from his wife, who asked him to call an attorney.
Maria Soria waited outside the repair plant, in tears. Her mother, Socorro Lechuga, 46, is an employee there and was eventually released by ICE agents.
Soria, 24, said her mother already had a petition for legalization in place before the raid. Lechuga is originally from Guerrero, Mexico.
Around 10 a.m., Soria received voicemail from her mother saying that ICE agents had arrived at the company and that she didn’t “know what’s going to happen.”
“I was worried at first, because you hear ‘ICE’ and everything goes downhill,” Soria said. “I got myself together,” and left work at a health care insurance company in to drive to Allen.
She called her mother’s lawyer, who told her not to worry because, he said, “they’ll either release her or set a bond to to be released within 48 hours” and that “they can’t do anything to her, pretty much, because she does have a petition in place.”
“So that gave me a peace of mind, that at least I know my mom will be OK,” Soria said. “As far anyone else here, I really don’t know their status or their situation, so that’s a whole different story.”
During the raid
Mathew Varughese, who says he repairs cellphones at CVE, described the scene inside the company. He said around 10 a.m. Wednesday, agents arrived, and some employees began running. Agents instructed workers to group together by legal status.
Employees who work at the company with legal immigration papers were given green wrist bands to wear.
By then, the reactions from employees were mixed — “Standing, no talking. Ladies crying,” he said.
He said he estimates that about 60 percent of CVE Technology employees are women.
One woman was in the building applying for a job at the same time that ICE agents arrived. She says there were hundreds of people inside.
Buses, at least one of which said LaSalle Corrections Transport, left CVE a few hours after the raid began, presumably with workers inside. Some demonstrators yelled toward one of the buses, “We see you, we love you.”
Third-largest employer in Allen
According to the Allen Economic Development Corporation website, CVE has 2,100 employees, making it the third-largest employer in city.
CVE already had an office in Plano when it moved its headquarters from New Jersey to Allen in 2014. The company was founded by Howard Cho in 1986 and is now headed by his son Edward Cho.
In 2014, Samsung accounted for 75 percent of the company’s business, but CVE planned to reduce that significantly as they expanded, according to North Jersey Media Group.
The company was honored in 2017 by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency with a national award.
KERA has reached out to CVE Technology for comment.
KERA’s Christy Robinson contributed to this report.