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Saturday, June 26, 2004

The Texas City Sun - Immigration raid hits local seafood company

The Texas City Sun

Immigration raid hits local seafood company

By Lisa Ray
Texas City Sun

Published June 26, 2004

TEXAS CITY — A normal workday at Hillman Shrimp and Oyster Co. turned upside down Friday when immigration officers took custody of about 30 workers.

One employee who only wants to be known as Juan said through a translator that he was working on one of the fishing boats when a bunch of cars drove toward Hillman. That’s when he knew that something was about to happen.

Juan had one of his visa papers with him, and his wife was able to deliver the rest to the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials that were on the scene. Other employees were not so lucky.

People who witnessed the enforcement action said about 30 workers were taken away in handcuffs.

“We want to say that we are going to do everything we can to help those employees and customers who are impacted by the announcement (about the raid),” the Hillman company said in a press release.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement press release said agents conducted another raid in Bacliff and one in Port Lavaca. The Bacliff location is a housing residence for Hillman employees. Port Lavaca is another seafood process and distribution site.

Steve Hillman, an owner and manager of Hillman Shrimp and Oyster Co., said the company goes through the U.S. Immigration and Customs office to obtain work visas for all out-of-country employees.

“We spend thousands of man hours a year doing that legally,” he said. “For the last 25 years, we’ve been doing everything by the book.”

Bruce Lewis, who owns a fishing boat, said officials forced everyone to get off his vessel.

“They made them put their hands behind their heads and everything,” he said.

The officers only questioned non-white persons, according to Lewis. The boat owner, who is white, said he was not asked for identification. All the workers on his boat were able to produce official documentation of their right to be in the country.

Agents on the scene at Hillman would not comment on the situation. While conducting the three raids, “special agents encountered undocumented aliens on the premises,” ICE Special Agent Joseph Webber said in a press release.

“Because this is an ongoing law enforcement action, and we must ensure the safety of the law enforcement personnel involved, we will not be able to provide additional information at this time,” Webber said.

Maria Villareal of Bacliff said her adopted son, Marco Villareal, was one of those taken in the raid. The Villareals met Marco when he was 15 and needed a place to say. Seven years later, they decided to adopt him. Maria Villareal said Marco has papers that allow him to work in the U.S., and he works two jobs in Galveston County. Maria was not able to find the papers in time, however, and Marco was taken to Houston by the customs agents.

“I’m so nervous I can’t look through the papers,” Maria said while holding a file of what she said were immigration and adoption papers.

The immigration agency said in a release that the raid specifically targeted “certain criminal activity and persons.”

“ICE continues in its responsibility to protect the members of the communities by halting such criminal activity,” the agency’s statement said.

Lisa Ray is a reporter for the Texas City Sun. She can be reached at (409) 945-3441 ext. 35, or by e-mail at lisa.ray@texascitysun.com.


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