Yesterday, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents conducted a massive raid in State College, Pennsylvania. According to reports, ICE agents joined forces with local police and members of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office to invade several private homes and small businesses, and at many of the locations, people were detained and asked to present immigration papers. Several people were taken away in handcuffs when they could not produce their immigration documents.
According to scattered reports, all of the businesses raided yesterday in what ICE officials are calling a “targeted enforcement operation” were Asian restaurants.
According to the Centre Daily Times and other outlets, the Thursday morning raid included 9 local Asian restaurants in the small borough of State College, Pennsylvania (home to about 100,000 residents): Hundred Degrees Hot Pot, My Thai, and Fuji and Jade Garden on the Westerley Parkway; College Buffet on North Atherton; China Wok at the Northland Center; and China Dragon on South Allen Street. An additional two restaurants may also have been raided, although reports are still unconfirmed: Hunan Wok on East College Avenue; and Chen’s Mongolian Buffet on South Atherton. CentralPA.com also reported that Penang Asian Fusion Cuisine on North Atherton had also been closed yesterday.
After a raid of 9 restaurants that involved multiple federal agents and that took much of the morning and afternoon, only approximately 13 people were arrested for being unable to present immigration papers; most employees were released after questioning. Keep in mind that arrest does not mean these people were actually undocumented; legal non-permanent immigrants can also face detention and arrest for not having their documents on their person at all times, or failing to be able to show their papers when asked. And just to put it out there: if you were working as a line cook in a busy kitchen, would you want to have your passport tucked into your apron pockets at all times?
Contrary to popular belief, many Asian American small businesses do actually follow immigration laws. As reported in Centre Daily Times:
Endi Lu owns Ni Hao in Northland Center and Bellefonte Wok. Neither of his restaurants was visited by the authorities, but family members own College Buffet and China Wok.
“It’s tough. There’s all kinds of rumors out there,” Lu said. “But you hope people know how you run your business. Everything we do is above board.”
One simply must ask oneself: did the risk of undocumented restaurant workers really pose so substantial a public danger as to warrant this kind of raid? And, why does it seem like only Asian-owned restaurants were targeted?
Indeed, ICE officials are admitting that there are no public safety concerns involved with this raid. So, by their own admission, this multi-agency federal raid yielded — under the most charitable of interpretations — the arrest and possible deportation of 13 non-violent line cooks and service staff.
Meanwhile, the impact of the raid is profound: files were also seized from these local businesses. And because the federal agents raided kitchen areas, all restaurants that were raided were forced to close their doors and clean their facilities, and be re-examined by county health inspectors, before they could re-open for business. While many of the businesses have now been reopened, the loss of revenue to these Pennsylvania small business owners may be high: not only have they lost employees and been forced to shutter their doors for a day, but who knows what the impact of federal suspicion (no matter how unfounded) will have on maintaining customers? In another Centre Daily Times article:
Two owners of Asian restaurants not involved in the investigation said they were worried about their businesses being indirectly affected.
At the Nittany Mall, a man and a woman who identified themselves as the owners of the Golden Ladle restaurant said they were concerned that the investigation would give all Asian restaurants a bad reputation.
Cindy Ma, owner of Pho 11 Vietnamese Restaurant on North Atherton Street, said she thinks business will slow down for her.
“Business was OK today, but I can’t speak for tomorrow,” Ma said. “I think it will hurt. People will think all Asian restaurants are involved.”
I can’t help but give this entire case a massive side-eye. Sure, approximately 9% of undocumented workers are from Asia, the second largest racial group behind Latinos. Yet, this raid stinks of unfounded bias, considering how most of those detained were able to demonstrate legal immigration status. It seems like ICE was out fishing for undocumented immigrants, and decided to target Asian restaurants.
It seems like racial profiling to me.
Federal officials have been largely reluctant to share details with the press. I will update this post with more information as it becomes available.