Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday arrested 284 employees at a technology repair company in a Dallas suburb on charges of working in the United States illegally. Officials say it's the largest worksite raid in the country in 10 years.
The morning raid in the Collin County city of Allen, 20 miles northeast of Dallas, came after an investigation into CVE Technology Group, which refurbishes and repairs cellphones and other consumer electronics.
ICE's Homeland Security Investigations division received tips that the company mave 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, the largest raid took took place in the small Northeast Texas town of Sumner at a trailer manufacturer, where 159 undocumented workers were arrested.
» RELATED | After An Immigration Raid
Late Wednesday morning, workers inside the CVE building in Allen began texting and calling family members, alerting them that officers were on site.
Nervous relatives raced to Allen, waiting for information. One got a text from his wife, who asked him to call an attorney.
— Anthony Cave (@Anthony_Cave) April 3, 2019
Maria Soria waited for news about her mother, Socorro Lechuga, a CVE employee for about six years.
Around 10 a.m. Wednesday, Soria got a voicemail from her mother saying that ICE agents had arrived at the company and that she didn't "know what's going to happen." The message made Soria cry.
"I was worried at first, because you hear 'ICE' and everything goes downhill," Soria said.
She left work in Las Colinas to make the 30-minute drive to Allen.
Soria said her mother already had a petition for legalization in place before the raid. Lechuga is originally from Guerrero, Mexico.
She called her mother's lawyer, who told her not to worry. "They can't do anything to her, pretty much, because she does have a petition in place," Soria said.
"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."
Lechuga, 46, was eventually released by ICE agents -- which led to a mother-and-daughter reunion outside the building.
Employees who work at the company with legal immigration papers were given green wrist bands to wear.
One of those workers was Mathew Varughese, who says he repairs cellphones at CVE.
He said when agents arrived, some employees started running. Agents instructed workers to group together by their immigration status.
By then, the reactions from employees were mixed — "Standing, no talking. Ladies crying," he said.
He said he estimates that about 60% of CVE Technology employees are women.
When the “redada” began, Mariela Ortega thought a tornado hit bc women began running. The Venezuelan w a work permit says most workers are women w $8 an hour starting pay of $8 at CVE Technology Group. The raid caused “pain in her soul,” she says. She defends the women here: 8/ pic.twitter.com/YiTj984EM6
— Dianne Solis (@disolis) April 3, 2019
One woman was in the building applying for a job at the same time that ICE agents arrived. She said there were hundreds of people inside.
During Wednesday's raid, a group of people gathered with demonstration signs in support of the workers.
Messsages on signs included "No human is illegal" and "ICE, stop terrorizing our communities."
Buses, at least one of which read 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."
A bus with people presumably detained by #ICE just pulled out of the Allen office building. You can see and hear protestors shouting to them from across the street. @keranews pic.twitter.com/qm6as5wTzp
— Anthony Cave (@Anthony_Cave) April 3, 2019
ICE staff will interview the Allen workers and make note of "humanitarian situations" such as medical needs, or if a worker is the sole caretaker of another person such as a child, officials said.
Based on those interviews, ICE will decide who remains in immediate custody and who can be considered for temporary humanitarian release.
Either way, ICE says all workers who are illegal "will be fingerprinted and processed for removal from the United States."
Family members of workers arrested in the raid may call a 24-hour toll-free detainee locator hotline to get information about detention location and status: 1-888-351-4024. The hotline operates in English and Spanish.
CVE has 2,100 employees, making it the third-largest employer in Allen, after Allen ISD and the retail development the Village at Allen and the Village at Fairview, according to the Allen Economic Development Corporation website.
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% 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. We are updating this story as new information becomes available.