By GAIGE DAVILA
Special to the PRESS
Since Monday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have been issuing subpoenas to Port Isabel and South Padre Island restaurants and hotels, seeking their employees’ records. According to local business owners, ICE is also seeking businesses’ records and employees’ personal information, such as addresses and phone numbers.
The subpoenas are a Notice of Inspection (NOI), informing business owners they must surrender all employees’ “I-9” forms. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration department uses “I-9” forms to verify a person’s authorization to work in the United States, whether they are documented or undocumented, as well as the identity of employees.
ICE, as of this article’s publishing, has focused towards issuing subpoenas to restaurants and hotels in the area.
ICE confirmed through a press release that agents issued “some South Texas businesses” the NOI’s, seeking to audit their hiring records, and to “determine whether or not they are in compliance with the
law.” Businesses served an NOI are given a minimum of three days to gather hiring documents and present them to a court hearing, according to local business owners served with the subpoena.
Multiple attempts to reach ICE’s Office of Public Affairs and their field office in San Antonio, Texas, which oversees the agency’s Rio Grande Valley operations, were unsuccessful.
ICE agents came to Casa Rosa Hotel, in Port Isabel, this past Monday, July 15, issuing a subpoena for the hotel employees’ “I-9” forms, personal information and the hotel’s taxes. Ida Martinez, who manages the hotel and has worked there for twelve years, said this is the first time Casa Rosa Hotel has had their employees’ personal and employment documents requested. After ICE first started issuing the NOIs, Martinez said word has spread through the Port Isabel and South Padre Island business community quickly, leaving many fearful of returning to work.
“A lot of people are scared right now,” Martinez said.
Martinez said the subpoena gave Casa Rosa Hotel seven days to collect their employees’ “I-9” forms, personal information, and the hotel’s taxes, which the owners of Casa Rosa Hotel will present at a court hearing. Martinez said the information the subpoena requested seemed unnecessary, such as the request for Casa Rosa Hotel’s tax records.
Martinez said the subpoena did not say she couldn’t speak about ICE’s request for documentation. However, Lee Roy Summerlin, owner of Cap’n Roy’s restaurant on South Padre Island, which also was issued a subpoena for their hiring records, said he could not discuss what records ICE requested from the business: when they received the subpoena, the time ICE gave Summerlin to gather and submit records, or the court date.
Another Port Isabel business owner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said ICE agents issued a subpoena for the businesses’ hiring records on Tuesday. They said this was the first time the agency had requested these documents from their business, and the first they knew of ICE requesting such documents in the area. Though they are not worried about their employees’ hiring records, they are worried that ICE’s presence in Port Isabel and South Padre Island could impact the area’s tourism, by risking the staffing of hospitality businesses.
Several business owners said Chilitto Pikin, a Mexican restaurant on South Padre Island, was also served an NOI by ICE. An attempt to contact the owners of Chilitto Pikin by the Port Isabel Press was met with a closed restaurant, with its operating hours removed from the front door. Employees of TND Nails, a nail salon next door, said the restaurant was likely closed indefinitely.
Janie Valdez, a manager at Pier 19 restaurant on South Padre Island, said ICE had not issued the restaurant with an NOI, but they are expecting one. “We’re waiting for it to happen,” Valdez said. “I’m sure they’re going to all the restaurants in this area.”
Staff at Louie’s Backyard and Padre Island Brewing Company, both on South Padre Island, and El Buen Pescador, in Port Isabel, said they had not been issued an NOI, and that it was the first they had heard of ICE activity in the area.
Eugene Delgado, a lawyer for LUPE, a Rio Grande Valley-based advocacy group, said ICE is attempting to intimidate local business owners.
“I think these sudden inspections are nothing short of racial profiling against Latino immigrants,” Delgado said. “The (President) Trump administration unfortunately has chosen small business owners to serve as pawns in its inhumane immigration policies. Now owners will be forced to fire hardworking people that contribute to society.”
Delgado says local business owners should get a lawyer before collecting documents, so the attorney can ensure business owners are only providing what the NOI asks for.
In total, ICE is subpoenaing payroll records,checks made to vendors in June 2019; copies of quarterly tax reports from 2019 to the International Revenue Service (IRS); copies of Texas Workforce Commission Employer’s Quarterly Report for 2019; registry of all employees current and terminated (within the last three months), including their social security and individual taxpayer identification numbers; employer identification numbers; owners’ identity and social security documents; business licenses; business original and amended tax returns for the last three years; copies of correspondence with the Social Security Administration; any documents identifying participation in E-Verify or Social Security Number Verification Service; and U.S. Information Returns forms from the IRS, according to a photo of the NOI provided to the Press.
ICE can fine businesses between $548 to over $21,000 for knowingly hiring undocumented people, and businesses can receive fines of $220 to around $2,200 for a substantive or technical violation, such as not providing an “I-9” form for a registered employee, according to ICE’s website.
Last week, the New York Times reported that ICE that would conduct nationwide deportation raids beginning on July 14, this past Sunday, and into the following days, aiming to arrest and deport over 2,000 undocumented migrants across 10 major cities, including Houston.
According to a 2015 Migration Policy Institute study, Cameron County has three percent of all undocumented people in the state. Thirty one percent of Cameron County’s undocumented population has lived in the U.S. for 20 years or more, according to the same study. Out of the 50 percent of undocumented population who are employed, 15 percent work in accommodation, food, arts, entertainment and recreation, according to the Migration Policy Institute study.