A large group of foreign students, who were arrested by federal agents in San Diego early Thursday, are accused of illegally operating pedicabs.
Approximately 50 to 60 agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrived at the apartments near F Street and 7th Avenue just after 6 a.m.
They searched several apartments and arrested dozens of foreign students on immigration charges, accusing them of violating their visas by working for a pedicab company. Agents are still making arrests, according to ICE spokesperson Lauren Mack.
The students have academic visas, which require special authorization if the students want to work.
Arrests were made by ICE Homeland Security Investigation’s National Security Unit in conjunction with an ongoing investigation, Mack said.
"During the takedown we received assistance from State Department’s Diplomatic Security, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations and Border Patrol," Mack said but she would not elaborate on the investigation.
The National Security unit is looking closely at the students because their particular visa was exploited by the 9-11 hijackers, Mack said. Since the attacks, this type of visa is more closely monitored.
An NBC 7 San Diego news photographer saw agents place nine people in custody. The people detained appeared to be in their 20s and were both men and women. Neighbors said they saw agents in five different apartments within the complex.
Mack said the suspects have a 30-day grace period to return to their home countries. The charges they face are considered administrative, not criminal.
ICE did not release a total number of arrests in connection with the operation Thursday.
Last month, 24 Turkish pedicab drivers were ordered to leave the country in a sweep that exposed a suspected crime ring. The students were exchange students in the country on different terms. The sweep was considered the first phase of the investigation. Officials are looking at owners and operators as part of the investigation.
Federal authorities made it unlawful for foreign students to drive pedicabs after an Illinois woman was killed three years ago after she tumbled from a cab and hit her head.