The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), arrested 114 undocumented immigrants working at an Ohio gardening business in one of its largest workplace raids in recent years. Tuesday’s arrests targeted employees of Corso’s Flower and Garden Center in Sandusky and Castalia, Ohio. Those arrested are expected to face criminal charges, including identity theft and tax evasion.
About 200 ICE personnel were involved in the operations, which began at 7 a.m. and continued late into the evening. Agents surrounded the perimeter of the Castalia locations, blocking off nearby streets as helicopters flew overhead. Search warrants were served at both locations without incident. They arrested 114 workers suspected of being in the country illegally and loaded many onto buses bound for ICE detention facilities.
Khaalid Walls, spokesman for ICE’s Northeastern region, said the investigation into Corso’s began in October 2017 with the arrest of a suspected document vendor. They reviewed 313 employee records and found that 123 were suspicious. He added that the majority of those arrested were Mexican nationals and some individuals were processed and released for humanitarian reasons.
Authorities are pursuing a bevy of allegations against Corso’s, including allegations of harboring illegal aliens, unlawful employment of aliens, false impersonation of a US citizen, fraud and aggravated identity theft, Walls said.
Steve Francis, special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations said “We are attempting to identify what criminal network brought over 100 illegal aliens to Ohio to work.” “If your business is operating legitimately, there’s nothing to fear. If you are hiring illegal aliens as a business model, we will identify you, arrest you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”
In October 2017, Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Tom Homan said he ordered the investigative unit of ICE to increase work site enforcement actions by as much as fivefold. “We’ve already increased the number of inspections in work site operations, you will see that significantly increase this next fiscal year,” Homan said at the time. Homan also said that those actions would target both the employers and the employees in violation of immigration law. “Not only are we going to prosecute the employers that hire illegal workers, we’re going to detain and remove the illegal alien workers. The aggressive efforts are meant to deter people from entering the country illegally and protect jobs for American workers.”
Corso’s employee Salma Sabala told news outlets that undercover officers showed up in an employee break room initially offering to give out Dunkin’ Donuts. Then, they started rounding up workers. “ They’re armed. They had the dogs. We hear the helicopters on top of us,” Sabala said. Videos captured by workers and reporters showed immigration agents putting employees in handcuffs and separating authorized U.S. residents from undocumented immigrants. No employees were seen fleeing.
The 114 people arrested were taken to detention facilities in St. Clair County, Michigan; Seneca County, Ohio; and the Youngstown, Ohio, area. Families of the arrested workers gathered at St. Paul Catholic Church in Norwalk, Ohio, seeking answers as to the whereabouts of their loved ones.