HOUSTON (AP) — Two Houston employment agencies that allegedly recruited immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to be cheap labor for restaurants in at least seven states were shut down Thursday after a series of arrests, federal authorities said.
The Hong Li and the Tai Shan employment agencies were competitors that both provided workers, mostly from Mexico and Central America, to Chinese restaurants in Texas, Louisiana, Maine and other states, said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations.
"The agencies recruited and solicited the workers and sought the business of these restaurants to feed their demand for cheap labor," Moskowitz said.
According to the indictments, the two agencies used Chinese language newspapers and Internet sites to solicit the restaurants and "offer Hispanic unauthorized alien workers, commonly referred to in this context as 'amigos,' to them."
Officials estimate that in the 10 years the agencies operated, they supplied restaurants with hundreds of workers.
"The entire business model rested on the shoulders of illegal workers," Moskowitz said.
The agencies are also accused of housing the immigrants in often cramped homes and apartments and transporting them to restaurants in various states as part of services to their clients.
"There is no doubt (the workers) were complicit, knew what was going on. But they were also exploited. They paid them below minimum wage, worked them 12 hours a day, six days a week, did not allow them to take gratuities and sometimes housed them in substandard facilities," Moskowitz said.