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Protest targets detention of undocumented workers

Sergio Medein admits it's been a rough few days.

The former restaurant worker is one of 25 people charged in a federal investigation of four Mexican restaurants and, on Tuesday, he took center stage in front of supporters angry about the immigration charges that could force him and others to face deportation.

The protest, the second in less than a week, was designed to spotlight the general treatment and continued detention of undocumented workers from Don Tequila on Allen Street, Agave on Elmwood Avenue, El Agave in Cheektowaga and La Divina Mexican Store in Kenmore.

"It was a difficult week," Medein, who worked at Agave, said through an interpreter. "In my opinion, this is not how you treat people, especially when they've done nothing wrong."

Aida Ramirez, who was arrested along with her husband, was also at the protest with her two daughters, ages two and four. She said immigration authorities arrived at her home early on the morning on the raids and, without warning, knocked down their front door and stormed in.

She said agents immediately separated her from her daughters and later placed them with Child Protective Services while she and her husband were taken into custody.

"These people are part of our community," said Pastor Drew Ludwig of Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. "When they turned over their homes and disrupted their lives, it became a disruption for all of us."

Ludwig said many of the undocumented workers charged in the case are expected to appear in immigration court Tuesday and he felt it was important to publicly show support for the workers and opposition to their detention.

The protest Tuesday began at Trinity Episcopal Church on Delaware Avenue and ended in front of Buffalo's immigration court at Delaware and Mohawk Street.

Officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the arm of Homeland Security that oversaw the arrests, said their respect for the rights of people to protest doesn't alter their core mission.

"ICE remains committed to sensible, effective immigration enforcement that focuses on its priorities, including recent border crossers, convicted criminals and other public safety threats," Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for the agency, said in a statement Tuesday.

Many of the restaurant workers who are facing possible deportation have been detained by federal immigration authorities as part of larger prosecution of restaurant owner Sergio Mucino, who is  facing charges that he and two others harbored workers living in the country illegally.

Mucino is also accused of grossing about $50,000 a week at each of the restaurants but failing to report that as income for purposes of state and federal taxes.

In recent years, Mucino’s restaurants have emerged as popular venues for people looking for authentic Mexican food and, in the eyes of many, filled a void among Buffalo’s ethnic food venues.

 

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