TUCSON — Supervisors and managers of a Phoenix-area car wash chain were taken into custody over the weekend in a large-scale workplace enforcement operation targeting immigration fraud, federal authorities confirmed Sunday.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents swarmed 16 locations associated with Danny's Family Car Wash, including their staffing service provider, HR Betty, as part of an ongoing criminal inquiry that is also investigating possible identity theft, ICE spokeswoman Amber Cargile said in a statement.
Agents arrested 14 people, including four U.S. citizens and 10 Mexican nationals, who were expected to appear in federal court Monday.
Cargile said she could not identify those arrested or specify the charges against them because the federal grand jury indictment under which they were charged remained under seal until at least Monday.
A Danny's Family Car Wash employee referred calls to a corporate office, where an answering service stated it was closed for the weekend.
Immigration agents interviewed 223 people as part of Saturday's operation. Of those interviewed, 30 people were taken into custody by ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations officials for possible deportation, based on prior criminal or immigration histories, Cargile said.
Prosecutors elected not to charge the remaining 179 people who were interviewed, based on the agency's enforcement guidelines, and they were released within hours, Cargile added.
"ICE is focused on sensible, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens and egregious immigration law violators," Cargile said in the statement. "ICE exercises discretion on a case-by-case basis, as necessary to focus resources on the agency's stated priorities."
Activists with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and Puente Arizona were critical of the raids and arrests.
"The agency … rounded up hundreds of workers, placing some in handcuffs," they said in a statement Sunday. "Yesterday's operation spread chaos, confusion and fear throughout the Phoenix area as family members went temporarily missing and word spread of ski-masked agents detaining car wash customers alongside workers across the city."
Activists said they planned to mount a protest Monday morning at the ICE office in Phoenix.
"ICE operations terrorize our entire community," said Nataly Cruz, an organizer with Puente Arizona. "And despite what they say, there are children who went to sleep without their parents last night and woke up this morning not knowing if they'd see them again."