Five days after raiding local Asian restaurants, the Department of Homeland Security made a statement about what happened and why.
The announcement came Tuesday morning from Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Nicole Navas.
“Last week,” Navas wrote in an email to the Centre Daily Times, “ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents conducted an enforcement action at numerous locations in the State College, Pa., area. During the execution of federal search warrants, HSI special agents encountered and detained 10 individuals from China, Guatemala, Thailand, Mexico and Indonesia, who were identified as being unlawfully in the United States and/or illegally re-entering the country after having been removed, a federal felony.”
She said the detained are in ICE custody “pending immigration removal proceedings or removal from the United States” and that a criminal investigation continues.
A source close to the investigation said that the issue is a criminal matter but that charges have not been filed. The source declined to speculate on the nature of the investigation or pending charges, claiming it could affect the investigation.
On Thursday, law enforcement officers at eight restaurants were seen carrying cartons marked “evidence” to vehicles at the same time that at least 13 people whose wrists were bound were taken away in vans. Three employees of College Buffet on North Atherton Street were detained Thursday morning but released later in the day.
The investigation — and determination of what charges will be filed — could take months, according to a source close to the investigation. Charges will likely be filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. That office’s website features a list of releases about its cases. Six people have been charged by the office since the beginning of June with entering the country illegally, according to that list.
No information has been made available about where the 10 detained people have been taken. An ICE representative said that, without names and biographical information for the people in question, that information cannot be released. An online form on the ICE website enables detainees to be located.
There are multiple locations where those held by ICE can be placed pending resolution of a case, whether by deportation, long-term incarceration or other ends. In Pennsylvania, there are official detention facilities at prisons in Lackawanna, Pike and York counties. The closest, however, is Clinton County Correctional Facility. Calls to that prison were immediately redirected to ICE.
York’s warden, Mary Sabol, spoke about how the ICE process works in her jail.
By contract, ICE has a hold on up to 900 beds in the 2,625-capacity facility but, Sabol said, that number is “fluid” and could go up or down based on available space and ICE’s needs. The agreement has been in place since 1992, with the county prison acting “kind of like a landlord” to ICE, which has a field office on site. Detainees are sometimes incarcerated with county prisoners, depending on classifications and other factors.
Sabol said that not all of the prisoners she houses are local. Some may have been detained in Pennsylvania, but others may be from farther away.
Lori Falce can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @LoriFalce.