A fire alarm blared inside CVE Technology Group in Allen as Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents swarmed into the building Wednesday morning.
Lucina Martinez heard the agents and other officers yelling, “Don’t move!” as they rounded up her and 283 other workers suspected of working illegally in the United States.
She froze and thought immediately of her two teenage sons. They’re both American citizens, and she wondered what would happen to them if she were deported.
“For the mothers, our first concern is our children, and if they’re going to be OK. They’re all I thought about — my sons,” Martinez said Thursday as her eyes filled with tears. “What were they going to think if they got home from school and I never came back?”
Eighty percent of the people who were detained are women.
Martinez was No. 217 of the employees ICE arrested Wednesday in the largest raid of its kind since 2008.
She had been working disassembling cellphones at the Allen-based company that refurbishes products including computers and televisions. A native of Mexico, she has lived in Dallas for 19 years.
When she came to the United States, she’d planned to save money to attend school back home, but she married and had two sons. Her husband left for Mexico last summer, so her job at CVE was the family’s only source of income.
“We’re not criminals. We’re not here to steal. We’re just here to work and earn our daily bread,” Martinez said. “And we want to get our kids ahead and help them have a better future.”
The arrests come during a yearlong criminal investigation that began after ICE received tips about the company’s hiring practices. By using workers illegally, the company created “an unfair advantage over their competing businesses,” said ICE’s special agent in charge Katrina W. Berger.
Representatives for CVE have not commented on the raid or the allegations against the company.
Although the majority of the people who were arrested are from Mexico and South or Central America, ICE reported others came from Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa and South Korea.
ICE said 125 CVE employees at work Wednesday were American citizens or permanent U.S. residents or had other legal status
Fernando Dubove, a Dallas immigration attorney, said that those hearings could be months away and that resolving all the cases could take years.
Immigration courts are persistently backlogged and are still catching up on cases that stacked up during the recent federal government shutdown, he said.
Some of the people who were arrested were on the path toward legal residency and had appointments at diplomatic offices to become documented workers.
“For the most part, these are people trying to work for a living,” Dubove said.
Hard working conditions
Truman Siddiqui, 47, of Allen worked at CVE between August 2016 and June 2017.
He legally immigrated from Bangladesh, and he said he, his wife and his son began working at CVE because it was easy to get jobs there.
He worked on a 20- to 25-person assembly line, testing and sorting cellphones. But he said that after nearly a year of being paid only $8 an hour, he moved on to a different job.
Siddiqui said other Bangladeshis in the United States legally also stayed at CVE only until they learned to drive and speak English.
“They would pay people very low wages, which is why I left the job,” he said. “But the undocumented workers would stay year after year because they couldn’t work anywhere else.”
Staff writer Sarah Sarder contributed to this report.
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