© 2024 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Activists urge ICE not to deport restaurant workers

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Two days after federal agents swooped in on four local restaurants, activists were outside one of the eateries urging the government not to deport the 25 employees that prosecutors say are in the country illegally.

Representing human rights, worker rights and religious interests, the approximately 20 activists opened with a prayer and then issued a call to Immigration and Customs Enforcement: let those rounded up this week be allowed to stay in the country.

Reverend Kirk Laubenstein, who directs the Coalition for Economic Justice in Buffalo, read a passage of the Book of Leviticus from the Old Testament to make his point: "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

The employees taken into custody worked at Don Tequila and Agave in Buffalo, El Agave in Cheektowaga and La Divina in Kenmore. They would reside in nearby homes acquired for the purpose of harboring them, according to a federal complaint, and would be transported in groups to the eateries. The federal complaint released earlier this week also claims that these individuals were working under illegal conditions including schedules up to 14 hours per day, for wages ranging from 500 to 800 dollars weekly.

The owner of the four restaurants, Sergio Mucino, and his associates Jose Sanchez-Ocampo and Marguin Sanchez are charged by federal agents with "harboring illegal aliens." If convicted, the defendants could face up to ten years in prison and fines up to $250,000 each. 

The workers federal agents say are in the U.S. illegally face deportation.

"These workers were victimized twice, and ICE is continuing to victimize them now," said Nichole Hallett, Assistant Clinical Professor at the University at Buffalo's School of Law. "That is not necessary. ICE has the discretion to decide not to pursue these workers and to let them go home to their families."

Hallett says that discretion comes from a policy put forth by the Obama Administration in 2011.

"Particularly in cases where people do not have criminal records," she continued. "And particularly when they, themselves, have been victims of crimes or have been victims of civil rights and labor violations, ICE is supposed to exercise prosecutorial discretion and not deport these individuals."

However, seven of the 25 individuals rounded up were charged by federal authorities with illegal re-entry into the United States. Two of them had previous felony convictions for prior illegal entries into the country.

Activists say they will petition federal lawmakers who represent this region, including Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Brian Higgins, to urge ICE not to deport the workers. Among their reasons is to not separate them from family members who are also here.

One of the speakers was Patricia, one of the very few legal and documented employees who worked for Mucino. She was employed for the past four years at Don Tequila and says her undocumented colleagues became family.

"These aren't bad hombres," Patricia said. "These are hard-working family people that were trying to provide for children, as I was providing for my children. And now I've had my means stripped from me, as an American citizen.

"I hope and I pray and I speak to the politicians that have the power to change some of these things, that you can keep these people here with their families and with me. I miss them and I'm heartbroken."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
Related Content