WASHINGTON -- In a nationwide sweep across 17 states including Maryland and the District of Columbia, immigration officials descended on popular restaurants like Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood and the ESPN Zone in Baltimore, arrested almost 200 illegal immigrants working for a janitorial company and filed criminal charges against its top three officials.
Agents targeted Florida-based Rosenbaum-Cunningham International Inc., raiding establishments like the ESPN Zone in 63 locations.
In Maryland, agents arrested six people on charges of entering the country illegally. The people were arrested at two Dave & Busters restaurants, including one at the Arundel Mills Mall in Hanover. James Dinkins, the acting special agent in charge of the Baltimore office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that federal agents had no evidence that the Maryland restaurants were involved in the criminal activities of the contract workers.
The six people arrested in Maryland hailed from Haiti, El Salvador and Guatemala, and included a pregnant woman, according to Dinkins. Their ages ranged from early 20 through 40s.
The case mirrors the raids last year by immigration agents at the Kawasaki restaurants in Baltimore. Its owners pleaded guilty in federal court in April, admitting that they hired illegal immigrants as low-wage employees at their well-known Japanese restaurants and funneled the profits from their labor into expensive real estate and luxury cars.
"It's a new way of doing business to target the companies that are criminally culpable," Dinkins said.
Officials of the company in yesterday's raid were charged with crimes that include evading $18 million in taxes and directing a manager to obtain 20 fake "green cards," or permanent residency cards, for cleaning crews at a Michigan resort - then rewarding that manager with a $1,000 bonus for doing so. Company officials used the tax funds to buy themselves racehorses, lavish homes and luxury boats, and to pay college tuition for their children.
The raids were the latest high-profile attempt by the Bush administration to bolster its enforcement credentials as Congress and the White House gear up for another round of immigration debate that is expected to begin in weeks.
Critics, many within the president's party, have assailed the administration for its support of an immigration overhaul that would give some illegal immigrants a chance at citizenship, calling instead for an "enforcement-first" approach that would ensure border and work site security.
Today in Washington, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary Julie Myers unveiled a 23-count indictment against Richard Rosenbaum, Edward Cunningham and Carolyn Flocken, issuing criminal charges that she said would have bite. And she issued a tacit warning to other companies when she praised Grand Traverse Resort, the western Michigan hotel where ICE focused its investigation.
"We stand ready to work with honest companies, who want to work with us and do the right thing," Myers said. Arrests Wednesday night and yesterday morning have also netted at least 195 illegal immigrants.
Nicole Gaouette and Adam Schreck write for the Los Angeles Times. Sun reporter Matthew Dolan contributed to this article.