SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Former employees of a popular Korean grocery store in Kearny Mesa said they were treated with hostility during a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents last month.
The ex-Zion Market employees held a press conference Tuesday with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) to share their experience.
In the Feb. 13, 2019, raid, ICE agents executed a federal search warrant at the market after investigating the employer. During the raid, agents rounded up and detained 26 employees at the store, and three workers were detained more at their homes.
The workers were temporarily taken into custody but released while their immigration cases are pending.
During the Tuesday press conference, the now-former employees stated that the raid responded to the strategy of "persecution and criminalization of workers."
ICE officials said the employees did not have proper documentation to work or live in the U.S. and the operation had to do with an ongoing worksite enforcement investigation that was initiated during an I-9 audit.
ICE officials added that it is a way to make sure that business owners are complying with U.S. employment laws.
Many of the impacted employees, like Rosalba Hernández, claimed guns were pointed and employees’ hands and feet were cuffed. She called the incident "really scary."
"As workers, we were surprised to receive this kind of response by ICE. We contribute to the economy and produce huge profits for business owners such as the Zion Market," said Hernandez in a press release. "We, the workers, reject the way they came to look for us, while at our job, without committing any sort of crime. In some instances, our colleagues had agents point their guns at us as they shouted commands."
Benjamín Prado, the coordinator of the AFSC’s U.S.-Mexico Border Program, demanded that the U.S. change the climate of persecution and criminalization of workers.
"We want to reinforce workers’ rights and say we as a society [that] every human being must work in order to produce and provide for our families and that is not a crime," Prado said.
An ICE spokesperson released the following statement Tuesday afternoon:
ICE Homeland Security Investigations is responsible for upholding the laws established by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. The law helps protect jobs for United States citizens and for others who are in the United States legally and who obtained legal authorization to work. This helps to eliminate unfair competitive advantages for companies that hire an illegal workforce and strengthens public safety and national security. On February 13, 2019, special agents from ICE Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego executed a federal warrant at the Zion Market as part of an ongoing criminal worksite investigation that was initiated as a result of multiple past violations dating back to 2011 and a recent I-9 audit of employee records. The investigation revealed that at least twenty-six individuals found working at the market at the time of the warrant were in the United States illegally and were not legally authorized to work. The twenty-six individuals were temporarily taken into ICE custody for administrative processing and most were released the same day, pending subsequent immigration proceedings. During the operation, HSI Special Agents conducted a safe and orderly operation, adhered to routine law enforcement protocols, and ensured the safety of our employees and the public. The workers who were taken into ICE custody at the market were processed safely and treated respectfully at all times.