Homeland Security agents detain 22 for immigration violations in raids of Lincoln restaurants

LINCOLN — Twenty-two people were detained Thursday in the capital city as part of a criminal investigation conducted by federal Homeland Security agents.

The 22 people were detained for immigration violations unrelated to the criminal probe, according to Shawn Neudauer, a spokesperson for Homeland Security Investigations.

Neudauer declined to discuss the nature of the criminal investigation, but said that most of those detained for immigration violations would likely be released later Thursday pending further administrative proceedings unless they have convictions for serious past criminal offenses.

The raids, conducted with the assistance of the Lancaster Sheriff’s Office, were carried out at multiple locations across Lincoln. Neudauer declined to identify the locations of the raids, but the Lincoln Journal Star reported that one happened at a Mexican restaurant just north of 70th and O Streets called Mazatlan.

An employee of another restaurant, Las Margaritas, under the same ownership, when reached by phone, said she could not comment on what happened on Thursday. No one answered the phone at Mazatlan or another restaurant, El Toro, which is owned by the same family.

The ACLU of Nebraska also said that the raids targeted restaurants in the city.

The ACLU called the raids “unnecessary.”

“The incarceration of these workers is yet another example of the Trump administration’s cruel war on immigrants, which continues to hurt families nationwide,” said Rose Godinez, legal and policy counsel at ACLU of Nebraska. “We are disappointed that Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner chose to divert local resources to facilitate this federal action targeting workers, because that decision does not advance our shared public safety goals in our community.”

The 21 men and one woman detained were from Mexico (19), Honduras (2) and Guatemala (1).

Neudauer said that the raids in Lincoln were similar to a much larger operation in O’Neill last August, when more than 130 people were detained, because both were spawned by a criminal probe, not an immigration enforcement action. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement handles immigration enforcement.

In O’Neill, several members of the same family were charged with exploiting local workers for whom they arranged jobs. Neudauer would not say Thursday if a similar operation was uncovered in Lincoln.

World-Herald staff writer Joe Duggan contributed to this report.

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