CHARLOTTE -- Nine workers were escorted out of the Olive Garden restaurant in Pineville, N.C., on Thursday afternoon and loaded into a van after being arrested on illegal immigration violations.
U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents converged on the Italian restaurant after receiving information that unauthorized workers might be inside, said Richard Rocha, an agency spokesman in Washington, D.C.
Olive Garden spokeswoman Mara Frazier said two immigration officials came to the restaurant around 2 p.m. without prior notice and began asking employees where they were born as they arrived for their shifts. Eventually, about 15 officials were on the scene, making arrests before the beginning of the dinner rush hour, she said.
Investigators would not release the names or charges against the workers. Three were from Indonesia, five from Mexico and one from Guatemala, Rocha said.
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Rocha was not sure what jobs the workers held or how long they had worked at the Olive Garden.
At least one woman, who is from Mexico, was assigned to the kitchen.
Adriana Sanchez told reporters that her mother, 56-year-old Amalia de la Cruz, worked as a cook there for eight years. Sanchez said her mother called from the restaurant to tell her about the raid.
On Friday, Sanchez said her mother and the other workers were in jail, waiting to find out what would happen next.
"I still don't know anything," Sanchez said.
Rocha said the workers will go before an immigration judge to determine whether they should be deported, but it's not clear how long they'll be detained before that happens.
Rocha declined to provide any details about what investigators learned and any liability the company could have following the arrests. The investigation is ongoing, he said.
In general, fines can be levied on companies that violate federal immigration laws. Prosecution also is a possibility in cases where there is evidence of other criminal activity taking place, Rocha said.
"No industry, regardless of size, type or location, is immune from complying with the law," Rocha said. "Illegal employment is one of the main drives behind illegal immigration, which makes work-site enforcement a crucial element of our enforcement efforts."
Frazier said the restaurant was providing immigration officials with the identification documents they had on file for the employees who were arrested.
"We carefully follow the law regarding the documentation of our employees, and we have documentation for all of them," Frazier said.