For the last ten years, a pair of Houston-based agencies has been recruiting illegal immigrants, for the sole purpose of finding them work in Asian-style restaurants in Louisiana and Texas.
Federal law enforcement agencies announced that not only were these workers here illegally, they also were forced to work and live in deplorable conditions, in some cases, right under East Texans' noses.
Asian City, a restaurant on North Street in Nacogdoches, had a steady flow of customers Thursday night.
Just hours earlier, it was listed in indictments connected with the racketeering and immigration violation ring broken apart by Immigrations Enforcement, and Homeland Security.
Those documents say that in 2011, an informant, posing as an illegal immigrant, was sent to the restaurant to work, and benefit Selena Feng, and Zongxian Zhu, listed as the owners and operators of "Asian City." Both of them were arrested in connection with the immigration ring.
Asian City is just one of the Texas restaurants allegedly connected to the Hong Li job agency and Tai Shan employment agency.
"In essence, they ran a take out and delivery service," said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of HSI Houston. "Not for food like the restaurants they serviced and conspired with, but rather for people. People they called "amigos," who were in this country illegally, with no authorization to work. They sought them out, harbored them, and delivered them to greedy restaurant owners and managers looking for cheap labor."
The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas said during Thursday's announcement that that "cheap labor" worked 12-hours a day, six days a week, for less than minimum wage, and no benefits. He called the situation "lousy."
"The defendants treated the aliens like so much chattel, obviously praying on the aliens' overwhelming desire to work here, as well as their collective helplessness, and fear to do anything other than go along with the program," said John Bales.
On top of their situations at work, the immigrants didn't get a lot of relief at home. The U.S. Attorney's office says that they were housed either at the restaurant owner's home, or somewhere else, normally on an air mattress on the floor. In one case, there were 18 living in one 2000-square-foot house.
The restaurant owners and operators each face up to 30 years in prison for the ring-related charges.
But federal authorities are also investigating the histories of all the illegal immigrants involved, because many have criminal histories, and some, have already been deported once.
A long-time employee of Asian City told KLTV 7 that the restaurant has a difficult time getting Chinese workers, so they often use a hiring agency. He also said that one of the agencies they've used in the past was busted, and the U.S. Attorney's office may have got the restaurant's name from those records.
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