By JACK WEATHERLY
Fifty-five foreign nationals were arrested Wednesday in six Asian restaurants in metro Jackson and two in Meridian by agents of the Immigration and U.S. Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
Thomas Byrd, public affairs officer for the ICE office in New Orleans, would not say what the charges were, only that the agents executed criminal search warrants. Byrd said he did not know if there would be further arrests. Also, he said he could not break down the number of arrest by restaurant.
Byrd also would not reveal where the arrestees were being held.
The restaurants in the metro area are: three Ichiban Chinese restaurants, two in Flowood and one in Pearl; China Buffet in Pearl; Red Samurai in Madison, and Hibachi Express in Clinton.
In Meridian, the restaurants are Sake Sushi and China II.
Byrd said the agents did not shut down the restaurants. Calls to the restaurants on Thursday confirmed that five restaurants were open for business. Messages left at China II, Hibachi Express were not returned and there was no answer at China Buffet.
“I’m pretty sure they’re free to open as soon as we’re done,” Byrd said Wednesday.
The agency will turn over their information from the searches to the U.S. attorney’s office in Jackson. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney said the office had no comment on the continuing investigation.
The actions come at a time when the Trump administration is ramping up its immigration enforcement efforts in the wake of adverse federal court decisions regarding a temporary ban of immigration from seven Middle Eastern nations.
John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, in a memorandum released Tuesday called for enforcement of immigration laws “by using all . . . statutory authorities to the greatest extent practicable.”
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Kam Ngai, co-owner of the Ichiban restaurants, said that he could not talk beyond saying that there are “some issues with the government.”
Jimmy Chiang, manager of the Ichiban Buffet in Flowood, said in an earlier, unrelated interview that the Ichiban restaurants employ about 20 full-time employees each.