Eleven people were taken into custody at just one apartment complex in southwest Houston as part of a human smuggling bust involving 13 locations around Houston.
A total of 32 people are now charged with immigration violations as part of this multi-state operation investigation. Officials said the targeted locations involved Chinese-operated temporary employment agencies that sent workers to businesses in different states.
The suspects are from Houston, Port Arthur, San Marcos, Dallas, Mineola, Rockwall, Sugar Land, Missouri City, Brownwood and Nacogdoches, plus Little Rock, Ark., and Bastrop, Allen and Abbeville, La.
Court documents show two federal employment referral businesses worked out of Houston to recruit illegal workers, usually from Mexico and Central America. The court documents show they worked in the Chinese restaurant industry.
Prosecutors say the workers worked long days, 6-day weeks, were paid far below the minimum wage and were not allowed to receive tips. Prosecutors say the restaurants did not pay employment taxes for health insurance or sick time.
"The Hong Li Job Agency and the Tai Shan Employment Agency operated a 'take-out and delivery service' for restaurants across the region but they did not deliver food. Instead, they delivered people illegally present in the United States to greedy restaurant owners and managers looking for cheap labor," said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Houston.
Court documents show workers lived in cramped apartments or homes. In one case, investigators said 18 people were living in a 2,000 square foot house.