Track storms using CBS 6 Interactive Radar

ICE arrests 114 at Ohio garden center in major mass raid

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested 114 undocumented immigrants working at an Ohio gardening business in one of its largest workplace raids in recent years.

“It is the largest in our region in the last decade,” said Khaalid Walls, spokesman for ICE’s Northeastern region, which comprises Michigan, Ohio, and Upstate New York.

In April, ICE arrested nearly 100 people accused of being in the US illegally at a Tennessee meatpacking plant. At the time, immigration rights groups said that operation was ICE’s largest workplace raid in a decade.

Tuesday’s arrests targeted employees of Corso’s Flower and Garden Center in Sandusky and Castalia, Ohio, Walls said.

About 200 ICE personnel were involved in the operations, which began at 7 a.m. and continued late into the evening, he said. Search warrants were served at both locations without incident, he said.

CNN contacted Corso’s by phone and email. A person answering the phones said no one was in the office and available to speak to CNN.

The mass arrest is part of the Trump administration’s aggressive stance on immigration, and particularly its pledge to increase crackdowns on employers who hire undocumented immigrants. In October 2017, Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Tom Homan said he ordered the investigative unit of ICE to increase work site enforcement actions by as much as fivefold.

“We’ve already increased the number of inspections in work site operations, you will see that significantly increase this next fiscal year,” Homan said at the time.

Homan also said that those actions would target both the employers and the employees in violation of immigration law.

“Not only are we going to prosecute the employers that hire illegal workers, we’re going to detain and remove the illegal alien workers,” Homan said.

A family member of one of the arrested Corso’s workers who did not want to be identified spoke to CNN affiliate NBC 24. “My soon to be brother-in-law was deported this morning,” she told the news station. “He was brought here as a young boy. He’s worked at Corso’s for many years. They paid him good money. By no means did they pay him what they think immigrants should be paid. They paid him good money.

“He did a good job and worked hard to provide for his family. He’s got a six-month-old daughter,” she added.

The investigation into Corso’s began in October 2017 with the arrest of a suspected document vendor, said Walls, the ICE spokesman. The majority of those arrested were Mexican nationals, he added, and some individuals were processed and released for humanitarian reasons.

Authorities are pursuing a bevy of allegations against Corso’s, including allegations of harboring illegal aliens, unlawful employment of aliens, false impersonation of a US citizen, fraud and aggravated identity theft, Walls said.

“If your business is operating legitimately, there’s nothing to fear,” said Steve Francis, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge. “If you are hiring illegal aliens as a business model, we will identify you, arrest you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”

Corso’s Flower and Garden Center includes a greenhouse, flower shop, garden center, landscape department and a wholesale perennial plant division, according to its website.

“We are a family-owned company committed to the highest level of quality and integrity in all that we do,” Corso’s says on its site.