Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents raided at least eight Asian restaurants in Mississippi on Wednesday, detaining 55 people — all of whom were undocumented restaurant employees. According to the Clarion-Ledger, agents executed search warrants at several locations of the Ichiban chain and two China Buffets in the cities of Flowood, Pearl, Meridian, and Jackson, the state’s capital and largest urban area. An ICE spokesperson did not specify the nature of the criminal search warrants.
Since mid-February, the Trump administration has launched what Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly calls “a series of targeted enforcement operations” against undocumented immigrants, one that will certainly disrupt lives, families, and businesses. The restaurant industry is particularly vulnerable to raids: A 2008 Pew Hispanic study found that 20 percent of cooks and 28 percent of dishwashers working in U.S. restaurant kitchens were undocumented. And as restaurants often function as de facto community centers for immigrants, many are serving fewer customers than usual as fears of raids have created what one advocate called an “isolationist reflex” among residents.
In Mississippi, the 55 arrests were as a result of a year-long investigation, an ICE representative told the Jackson-Free Press, though he declined to give specifics. According to Randy Capps, director of research at the Migration Policy Institute, most of the criminal-case raids happening now are a result of investigations that began under the Obama administration’s Secure Communities initiative, later called the Priority Enforcement Program.
“To my knowledge not many of these raids will happen because someone tips off ICE that a business is employing undocumented workers,” Capps told Eater. “In order to enter a business or arrest an employee, ICE needs a warrant. The fastest and surest way to get that warrant is if ICE can name a known criminal offender, someone who has been arrested in the past and whose fingerprints are on file.”
As Josh Stehlik, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, told Eater earlier this month, restaurant owners do not have to comply with ICE agents’ requests to enter the business unless a warrant grants them specific access.
Additional reporting by Daniela Galarza.