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By Henry K. Lee
San Francisco Chronicle

VACAVILLE, Calif. Federal agents raided three Bay Area homes and two restaurants this week, arresting 21 undocumented immigrants who had been working at the establishments and living in squalor, authorities said today.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents searched homes in Vacaville, Vallejo and Hercules on Wednesday as well as King's Buffet on Orange Drive in Vacaville and the Empire Buffet on Sonoma Boulevard in Vallejo, both Chinese restaurants.
Authorities are also investigating a second outlet of the Empire Buffet in San Pablo. That restaurant wasn't searched because it never opened Wednesday, most likely because agents had already rounded up its workers, said ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice.
Authorities said 13 suspected undocumented immigrants had been found at the Chinese restaurants and the other eight had been found at homes owned by people linked to the establishments. One person was released on humanitarian grounds; the rest are to appear before federal immigration judges.
The workers were crammed into small rooms or garages with makeshift walls and mattresses on the floor at the homes on Park Street in Hercules, Purple Sage Drive in Vacaville and Glacier Court in Vallejo, authorities said. The homes were infested with rodent droppings, agents said.
The owners of the Vacaville and Vallejo homes have been identified but have not been charged, Kice said. She said the investigation was continuing.
The case began in May 2006 when someone called to report suspicious activity at the Vacaville home, authorities said. Neighbors reported that residents of Chinese descent were being "picked up early in the morning from the residence and not returning until late at night," ICE Special Agent Jose Ochoa wrote in an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.
Vacaville police went to the home and found 21 mattresses, receipts from King's Buffet and evidence that 30 people had been living there, wrote Ochoa, whose agency took over the investigation.
Investigators said they found evidence that some of the restaurants' undocumented workers were being paid in cash and that their wage information had not been reported to the state Employment Development Department as required by law.
"No business, regardless of size, type or location, is immune from complying with the law," Daniel Lane, assistant special agent in charge of the ICE investigations office in Sacramento, said in a statement. "All too often, illegal alien workers are exploited in some fashion by the businesses that hire them, and that is unacceptable."
Nine of the undocumented immigrants arrested Wednesday are from China, five from Mexico, three from Guatemala, two from Indonesia, one from Singapore and one from Honduras.

Wire Service
 
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