I.C.E. raids El Balazo restaurants

May 2, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
On Friday, immigration raids swept a popular Bay Area taqueria chain. All 11 local "El Balazo" restaurants were raided and dozens of undocumented workers were arrested and face deportation.

The El Balazo on Marin Street in San Francisco is closed. Earlier, Federal Agents rounded up 62 workers from Mexico and one from Guatemala. Immigration says a number of them may have been living in the Bay Area and working here illegally for years.

Around 8 p.m. the last few suspected undocumented workers left the immigration office in San Francisco. They were met by advocates from the Bay Area Immigration Rights Coalition.

"She came to this country and her only crime is she that she has been working, and she is really upset. She is shaken up," said Larisa Casillas, from the Immigration Rights Coalition.

The operation came to a climax Friday morning. Simultaneous raids at 11 locations of the El Balazo restaurant chain including this one on Marin Street in San Francisco. I.C.E. Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement also descended on the El Balazo restaurants in San Ramon, Concord, Pleasanton and other East Bay locations. An immigration official says it started with an on going investigation of the El Balazo chain.

"But as part of this enforcement action we encountered 63 workers at these 11 locations who are working at these establishments, who in the country illegally, and don't have authorization to work in the United States," said Virginia Kice, from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"Did you expect to find these people, or are you surprise?" asks ABC7's John Alston.

"I won't speculate about what we did or didn't anticipate finding," said Kice.

Officials from the Mexican Consulate showed up to Immigration Headquarters to oversee the processing of the workers. They say they are generally satisfied with the way the operation was carried out although they point to one glitch.

"We are entitled to have official notification from I.C.E. In this case we did not receive it. We got information from other places and other sources," said Hector Peralta, from the Mexican Consul.

Now, deportation proceedings will begin for the 63 restaurant workers.

"The majority of these people will be released under some sort of supervision. In some cases we will be using electronic monitoring; we may require individuals to post a bond. All of these measures are in place to ensure they will comply with the legal process," said Kice.

Kice says it is pure coincidence the raids took place on the day after the May Day immigration rally. 11 workers were released almost immediately because of medical conditions including pregnancy. A few of them may have criminal records and a decision will be made later on as to whether they will be taken into custody. No criminal charges have been filed and I.C.E. would not comment on any possible action against the restaurant owner who hired these workers.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) set up a hotline for any family members of those who were arrested that may need information.

Phone number: (415) 844-5381


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