Baltimore Businesses Targeted for Illegal Workers
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm Debbie Elliott. This weekend, a court case is signaling that the Department of Homeland Security is cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers. In Baltimore, the owners of several Japanese restaurants pleaded guilty to felony charges that carry serious prison time. NPR's Libby Lewis has our report.
LIBBY LEWIS reporting:
Doctor Marvin Leneau is a regular at the Kawasaki Café. It's a cozy little place perched on Fell's Point in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Leneau says it's always been a friendly place and the sushi...
Dr. MARVIN LENEAU (Kawasaki Café Patron): Absolutely awesome.
LEWIS: Leneau didn't know the owner, Tzu Ming Yang, his wife Jui Yang and manager Jack Chang had been running their three successful restaurants with illegal labor. All three are naturalized U.S. citizens. The Yangs are from China, Chang is from Taiwan. The men were charged with conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens and money laundering. Federal agents said the defendants paid the workers a pittance off the books, then used the money they saved on labor to buy Mercedes and nice big houses in the suburbs. Yang's wife was charged with the misdemeanor of employing illegal aliens. The three pled guilty yesterday in Federal Court in Baltimore and they agreed to forfeit more than a million dollars in cash and property. The men face up to thirty years in prison. Attorneys for the Yangs and Chang said they would not comment until their clients are sentenced. But the government had plenty to say about this case.
Ms. JULIE MYERS (Assistant Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement): This is the future of worksite enforcement.
LEWIS: That's Julie Myers, who heads U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement for the Department of Homeland Security.
Ms. MYERS: We're no longer content with low-level fines that companies see as a cost of doing business. We are now aggressively pursuing serious criminal charges and forfeiture charges for those who willingly break our laws.
LEWIS: Rod Rosenstein, U.S. Attorney from Maryland, oversaw the prosecution.
Mr. ROD J. ROSENSTEIN (U.S. Attorney, Maryland): One of the interesting things about this case is that this is not a situation where there was a struggling business that couldn't find U.S. citizens or lawful aliens to employ. In fact, they employed illegal aliens because they were able to pay them less and because the people weren't in a position to complain.
LEWIS: The downtown restaurant had little lockers to hold the chopsticks of valued customers, including the mayor, his wife and the former police commissioner. It closed last month after the feds filed charges and detained 15 illegal workers. Federal officials say while the Yangs and Jack Chang were living the good life, those workers, many from Indonesia, China and El Salvador, were paid as little as two dollars an hour. Rosenstein says the defendants also housed some of them in pretty seedy conditions.
Mr. ROSENSTEIN: People living in very small rooms with mattresses in the floor and in some cases no plumbing.
LEWIS: Patron Marvin Leneau said he couldn't believe this was happening right underneath his nose, but he says he knows this goes beyond a few bad employers.
Dr. LENEAU: We got very dependant on the cheap labor, so we have to decide, as a country, do we want an increase in price or do you want to make these aliens legal Americans?
LEWIS: He said it's not just a choice for policymakers, it's a choice for everyday citizens like him. Libby Lewis, NPR News.
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