In Western New York's biggest immigration raid in memory, federal agents this week apprehended 25 migrant workers from a Genesee County farm and began proceedings to have them deported.
Agents from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service descended on Torrey Farms in Elba, north of Batavia, on Monday and led the migrant workers away in handcuffs. The arrests came about two weeks after actions against 12 other workers at Torrey Farms, a large vegetable grower that employs 260 workers, including many Americans, at harvest time.
This week's raid "is larger than anything that comes to mind," said John J. Ingham, district director of the Immigration Service in Buffalo.
Some 24 Mexicans and one Guatemalan were arrested in Monday's raid, Ingham said. Fifteen of them were men, and they were transported Tuesday to a detention site in Berks County, Pa. Ten women -- some of whom had small children -- were released on their own recognizance.
Two of the workers had been charged previously with being in the United States illegally, Ingham added.
The farm workers now face, in front of a federal immigration judge, removal hearings, which could result in their deportation. Bond for most of them was set at $5,000.
Ingham said the workers were making $5 an hour -- below the federal minimum wage of $5.15. Some of the workers had counterfeit immigration documents, and others said they did not have to present documents when they were hired at Torrey Farms.
Maureen Torrey Marshall, a spokesman for the farm, disputed much of what Ingham said. She said the workers were paid at least $5.15 an hour and added that the state Labor Department referred all of the workers to the farm.
"People are in mourning around here today," Ms. Torrey Marshall said. "They can't believe what they saw."
The raid resulted from a search warrant signed by a federal magistrate. Ingham said the previous arrests at the farm paved the way for the bigger raid.
"After we arrested those 12 people two weeks ago, no doubt we obtained some information from them," he said.
Ingham said the Immigration Service is investigating to see if the farm knowingly hired illegal aliens -- a charge that can result in fines of $250 to $2,500 per person. Fines ranging from $100 to $1,000 also could result if Torrey Farms failed to complete proper documentation for employees.