Immigration raid at Fullerton factory leads to 43 arrests


Production resumed Wednesday at a manufacturing plant in Fullerton after an immigration raid that resulted in the arrests of 43 workers and the temporary shutdown of the facility.

Employers at Terra Universal Inc., which produces equipment for semiconductor and pharmaceutical manufacturers, spent the day reassuring customers, checking employees’ documents and questioning why they were targeted, according to the company’s attorney.

Chief Operating Officer Ken Harms said the raid took him by surprise and disrupted the entire plant. “It was completely unexpected,” he said.

Immigration agents executed a search warrant at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday as part of an ongoing criminal investigation, according to Lori Haley, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Haley declined to specify what agents were investigating but said the operation was conducted in a professional manner.

“We are not there to cause disruption to the company,” she said. “We are there to gather evidence.”

Terra Universal, which opened in 1976, has about 230 employees. Haley said all but two of the workers arrested were later released and given notices to appear in immigration court.

According to the search warrant, agents were looking for job applications, employment verification forms, immigration documents and correspondence from the Social Security Administration regarding the use of Social Security numbers that didn’t match the employees’ names. In addition, agents were searching for documents related to the company’s reporting of wages and taxes paid and documents that showed any cash payments to employees.

The company’s attorney, David Ross, criticized the agency for using a search warrant and employing “SWAT” techniques rather than simply asking for the employment records. Ross said agents spent the whole day at the plant on Raymond Avenue, preventing workers from leaving and stopping sales, production and shipping.

“It was total overkill,” he said. “You don’t need a warrant and 40 ICE agents to come in and storm the place.”

Ross said he believed the move was political and that President Obama is trying to show that his administration is cracking down on illegal immigration. Obama is expected to speak Thursday in Washington, D.C., about the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

Worksite enforcement has been a key part of Obama’s immigration policy. The administration has conducted hundreds of workplace audits and arrested dozens of employers.

The chief of ICE, John Morton, has said the agency is focusing on companies that have some link to national security and on employers who are knowingly hiring illegal workers and committing other crimes, such as extorting employees, failing to pay minimum wage or harboring illegal immigrants.

“Are we trying to engage in enforcement that counts? Yes,” he said in an earlier interview. “When you are dealing with limited resources and more employers than those resources can cover in a given year, you have to have targeted efforts.”