More than two dozen people were temporarily detained after federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials descended on a Kearny Mesa grocery store Wednesday for what was described as a worksite enforcement operation.
Using a federal search warrant, ICE agents searched Zion Market, a Korean grocery store on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, for what the agency said was undocumented worker violations.
ICE said 26 people working at the market were in the U.S. without authorization. They were temporarily taken into custody before being released pending the outcome of their immigration cases.
ICE, alongside Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) agents, said the search was part of their "worksite enforcement strategy" to enforce laws regarding the "hiring and employment of individuals not legally authorized to work in the United States."
A man among the group of detained workers, who wished to stay anonymous, told Telemundo 20 that he and other workers hid in a room when they first saw the agents.
Agents found the room and tried to call them out and when they refused they broke the door down and detained them.
The man said that everyone who was detained were undocumented Latinos with the exception of one man who was an undocumented Korean. He also said he believes all but three people were released and suspects those who weren't had criminal records.
The man returned to Zion Market after he was released and was told he was no longer employed there.
He is due back in court in 10 days.
HSI Special Agent David Shaw told NBC 7 he can’t comment on Wednesday’s operation but said these types of enforcements were to crack down on employers.
“It's a compliance measure for us to ensure employers are actually hiring people that are legally in the country and eligible to work,” Shaw said.
The special agent said businesses that employ people working illegally in the U.S. could encourage other illegal activity.
“Some of these folks are trafficked, some of these folks are smuggled in – there's more money laundering that goes with some of these cases too,” Shaw said about these types of raids.
These crackdowns have been a focus for President Donald Trump. In 2018, HSI opened nearly 7,000 worksite investigations compared to about 1,700 the year before.
“I think they have to do it to keep order in the city,” said Kathy Kim, a customer at the market.
Employers can face criminal charges and heavy fines if convicted of charges in these cases.
The manager of Zion Market declined to comment.
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