The last two days were extremely long for Immigration and Naturalization Service Special Agent Takeshi Tsukemoto, for the INS served a warrant for illegals at a sweatshop. Eighty-five aliens were taken into custody, and they had to be processed for removal; he spent thirty hours on the processing floor over two days. Two sweatshops were served warrants every week.
The conditions at these sweatshops kept getting worse with every warrant service, thought Takeshi. This sweatshop had three enforcers guarding the entrances. After the employees went inside, the enforcers padlocked the doors. Inside, the rows of sewing machines were arranged like a checkerboard. Beside every sewing machine was a piece work rack with three-foot high steel poles in the front and on the sides so the completed work could be stacked straight and consistently; only the rolling piece work racks could maneuver between the aisles. It created an assembly line: one worker would sew a sleeve to the body of the shirt, put it on the rack, where it would be sent to another worker to sew the other sleeve. The payment for one sleeve was usually two to three cents. If there were a fire, most would not be able to escape, thought Takeshi. The worst place was the lunch room. Picnic tables were placed in the toilet area and the stench was unbearable; five new and three experienced agents threw up. There were even ten children, ages three to five. The parents brought them to work since they couldn’t afford babysitters or were sick.
As standard operating procedure, a briefing was held prior to the warrant service. Special Agent Peter Kim was assigned the role of an Asian delivery boy to lure the enforcers to his truck, where other agents would detain them. Five agents were assigned to secure the back door so the workers couldn’t jump over the back fence and run onto the freeway. The California Highway Patrol stopped freeway traffic in both directions prior to serving the warrant. Five other agents were to climb onto the roof so people could not jump off the sides of the building.
After the warrant was served and completed, the agents gave money to buy toys and diapers at Toy R Us, and Happy Meals for the children.
“Going to be a massive fine,” said the case agent Simon Porter. “Told the owner that these people can’t be employed here.”
Just then, an Asian man drove up in a black Mercedes. “I have lawyer! I have lawyer!” he yelled, waving his arms and stomping up and down.
“These sweatshop owners need to go to jail, not just pay a fine,” said Takeshi.
“Tsukemoto!” yelled Supervisory Special Agent George Flores. “Have an easy Bag N Tag for you. Think you can handle something this easy? You identify and arrest, easy and simple. Bring Walsh with you.”
All the agents referred to George as Jack, for his big head reminded people of Jack In The Box. When Jack was not selected for promotion, he filed a racial discrimination suit and wrote a memo that he wanted to be officially referred to as Jorge. After filing the suit, he placed plaques and awards on the walls and shelves in his cubicle.
“A City of Torrance Councilman Tony Kriss sponsored a Flamenco dance troupe. They apparently walked out on him, demanded more money, and are now trying to extort him. Kriss cancelled his sponsorship and requested they be deported. I’ll have James Walsh help you. Maybe you can learn something from him,” said Jack and slid a file across the desk to Takeshi.
Later, Takeshi and Walsh looked at the working file, which only contained the predication and synopsis. The troupe’s name was Vivo Paco Casares. Paco was the troupe leader, and Enrique Gastor played the percussions. The three dancers were Sara Aranda, Carmen Baras, and Cristina Gomez. They entered the United States only three months ago to give performances as highly skilled H-1 workers.
“Let me do the routine checks on them and tomorrow we can go talk to Kriss. I’ll make the appointment,” said Takeshi.
“Why do you let Jack talk to you like that? No one has to put up with that shit.”
“You know me–I’ve never been confrontational with my bosses,” said Takeshi. “Besides, it was great pleasure to tell him I wouldn’t testify on his behalf that being a minority I was being discriminated against.”
At eleven a.m. the next day, Takeshi met Walsh at the Torrance City Hall to meet with Tony Kriss. His third story office was decorated with plaques from the Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, Torrance City of Commerce Distinguished Citizen of the Year, and many others. There were photos of him in the Navy, and a picture of him with Governor Brown.
“Thank you for coming here today,” said Kriss. “As I told your director, I sponsored Vivo Paco Casares to give performances to further showcase this beautiful dance to our communities. After five weeks, the troupe refused to perform, and Paco demanded more money. That’s when I contacted your director. We play golf together.”
“Sir,” said Takeshi. “Did you have a disagreement with him? Like artistic or otherwise?”
“None. We got along great until he wanted more money than agreed upon.”
“Did you two have a contract?” asked Takeshi.
“May we see it?”
“I’m afraid the contract is at my lawyer’s office.”
“Sir, what were the terms of the contract, like the amount of compensation, schedule, housing costs, and others?” asked Walsh.
“My lawyer said I shouldn’t divulge that to anyone.” said Kriss.
“Sir, you realize under the conditions of the H-1 petitions, you’re responsible for providing the cost of the tickets for them to return to Spain?” asked Walsh.
“Why should I? They walked out on me?”
“But that’s what the regulations say,” said Walsh.
“I’ll just have to take up that issue with your director, now won’t I.”
“Do you know where the troupe is staying?” asked Takeshi.
“I hired a private detective to follow them. Here’s the address,” said Kriss, writing it down and handing it to Takeshi. I also wrote the address where they are performing. For the next two weeks they’ll be at the El Cid restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, as well as other places. Those places should be prosecuted for hiring illegals.”
“Sir, as per regulations, did you file a letter of withdrawal for the visas you wish cancelled?” asked Takeshi.
“That is with my lawyer also.”
“Sir, is there anything else you can tell us or provide us with other documentation pertaining to this case?” asked Takeshi.
“It’s very difficult for me to tell you this. But according to my sources, the women are performing lap dances at these restaurants after closing.”
“Lap dances?” asked Walsh, looking at the file.
“I made such a mistake petitioning them. Please let me know what happens. I will certainly call your director to thank him for your time.”
“Did you believe that guy?” Takeshi asked Walsh outside.
“I looked in the file. Why would anyone pay money for lap dances by middle aged women?” asked Walsh.
Takeshi and Walsh went to the El Cid Restaurant. The Vivo Paco Casares
dinner shows were sold out for the rest of the week, so Takeshi bought tickets for the week after; it wasn’t cheap, thought Takeshi, one hundred and fifty dollars for one person. Takeshi knew he would not get reimbursed.
“When are you going hook them up?” yelled Flores, two days later.
“Once we can get more evidence they’re here working illegally,” said Takeshi.
“What else do you need to know other than their visas have been cancelled?
It’s a simple Bag N Tag!”
“Look,” said Takeshi. “I don’t even have the original file from the regional office. The last thing you want to do is not follow standard operation procedures. If the troupe goes to court, and their lawyers find irregularities, you’ll be held responsible. Now, that wouldn’t look good for your suit,” said Takeshi.
“Good comeback,” said Walsh to Takeshi.
Flores stopped talking.
On the day Takeshi and Walsh were to go see the performance, they stopped at the INS Western Regional Office to get a copy of the visa applications. Everyone in the troupe was supposedly to be paid sixty-five thousand for one year, three thousand a month for housing, and twenty-five hundred a month for food and other expenses, plus fifteen percent of the total profit. The contract also included a vehicle for each of the performers. They were to perform five times a week, once a day. He didn’t see an application requesting the visas be cancelled.
Takeshi and Walsh went to see Dennis Perry, the adjudicator in charge of
sponsoring entertainers. Takeshi gave him the file.
“Not Kriss again!” said Dennis after he opened the file.
“You know him?” asked Takeshi.
“Last year it was the group of Russian dancers and an Irish band, and the year
before a group of Japanese singers. He tried to cancel his sponsorship just like this one. These sponsors always try to get INS to deport these people so they don’t have to pay them. It’s a civil case!”
“Can a person just say they wouldn’t be sponsoring someone just like that?”
“No, they can’t. There has to be an approved request for termination. And the withdrawal has to be legally binding, usually done by an attorney. So, it’s not a valid withdrawal. Bet this Kriss didn’t pay them?”
“Flores wants a Bag N Tag on them.”
“You mean Jack? I told him several times you can’t just go arrest these entertainers without the proper paperwork. I certainly wouldn’t hook them up unless there’s an approved withdrawal. The Japanese singers hired some big-time attorney and sued us for wrongful arrest and detention. In fact, it was the immigration judge who told the singers to sue the shit out of us.”
“Why do we let people like Kriss keep petitioning people with his record? Can’t you flag the Krisses of the world?”
“We did, but all the rights groups and the American Immigration Lawyers Association threatened a lawsuit that flagging them would only deter cultural exhibitions from being introduced to the American public—that’s their line. Then they called every politician in their pockets to cancel the flaggings.”
“Did our lawyers do anything about that?”
“You mean the jellyfishes!”
The dinner started at six o’clock. The dance started at seven o’clock. EL Cid was filled to capacity. The troupe came onstage and introduced themselves one by one. Then the dance started, slow at first but rapidly speeding up. Paco played the guitar and sang, and Enrique played the drums. The dancers started off by dancing individually, then together. It didn’t seem like an hour and a half when the performance ended.
The crowd gave a fifteen-minute standing ovation, with three curtain calls and the audience chanting, “Paco!” “Paco!” “Paco!”
After the dinner and performance, Takeshi and Walsh conducted surveillance from the parking lot across the street. Fifteen minutes after the performance, the troupe members came out. Walsh radioed the license plate and found the vehicle was registered to a Juan Talega of Burbank. Takeshi and Walsh followed the vehicle until it arrived at the address Kriss provided. All the lights in the house turned off twenty minutes later. They conducted surveillance for the next two hours, but no one came or left. The surveillance was conducted for the next two nights, with the same results.
The next morning, Takeshi and Walsh went to the Burbank address. They could hear a guitar playing. Besides the pair of handcuffs each carried, Takeshi put three more pairs in his bag. Just in case, thought Takeshi. “Hello, anyone home?” asked Takeshi. A man whom Takeshi recognized as Paco came to the door. “Does anyone speak English?”
“My name is INS Special Agent Takeshi Tsukemoto, and this is Special Agent James Walsh. May we come in to discuss a matter?” asked Takeshi, showing Paco his badge and handing Paco his and Walsh’s business cards.”
Paco looked at the cards. “We have been expecting you. Please enter.”
The others came out to the dining area. “Inmigracion,” Paco said to the others. “No te precocupes.” Do not worry Paco said to the others.
Sara and Carmen started to cry. Cristina ran into the bathroom and could be heard throwing up.
“Officers, please come sit down at the dining room table,” said Paco.
Enrique sat at the table with Takeshi and Walsh. Costumes hung on three long garments racks like the ones usually seen in factories. Three guitars against one wall, and several small drums next to them
“Sir, do you know a Tony Kriss?” asked Takeshi. “He petitioned you and the rest to perform Flamenco dances.”
“Kriss did indeed petition for us. We had a contract, but he would not adhere to all of the stipulations of that contract. “Por favor ve a buscar los documentos del contrato,” Paco said to Enrique.
Enrique came back from a room and gave Paco a one-inch thick file folder.
“Please exam it,” said Paco. “I’m sure you’ve seen this file before.”
“How would you know that?” Takeshi asked, recognizing the file as the same one he saw at the INS Regional Office.
“I was for a short time a Madrid police officer.”
“Why did you quit being an officer?” asked Takeshi.
“I started playing instruments as a child and took up Flamenco when I was ten. I was not a good dancer, but I loved Flamenco so I continued as a musician for the dance. You get paid as an officer, not as a musician. I used the money to take classes.”
“Pretty interesting background,” said Takeshi. “I wanted to be a college English professor. I respect anyone who has a passion and commitment for his art, unlike me. Now back to the situation at hand. According to Kriss, you stopped performing for him after five weeks? Can you explain why?
“Everyone here was to make sixty-five thousand a year, three thousand a month for housing, twenty-five hundred a month for food,” said Paco pointing to items in the file. “Each one of us was supposed to get a car. That never happened. He has not even paid us at all.”
“How often were you to get paid,” asked Walsh.
“Every month, along with the other payments. We were planning to get separate places, but no one has been paid”
“Have you questioned Kriss why he hasn’t paid you and the others?” asked Takeshi.
“Por favor obtenga una copia del poster,” asked Paco to Enrique.
Enrique came back with a box of 24 x 36-inch posters of the troupe, along with dates and places of the performances.
“Kriss said that if we could not fill up auditoriums and make money, we would not make money too. I believe he only sold thirty tickets for the first scheduled six shows. I informed him that we had a legal contract binding for both the United States and Spain.”
“What did he say to that?” asked Walsh.
“He told us to help with the marketing. He suggested we go to community centers to give small performances to entice people to buy tickets. I told him that he had agreed to do the marketing,” said Paco, pointing to a sheet in the file. “Then he said we should perform in parks and on major street corners to attract potential ticket buyers. I told him that we are professionals, not animals in a zoo to have people stare at us.”
“What did Kriss say when you refused? asked Walsh.
“He started yelling and screaming, waving his arms and stomping up and down.”
“I told him we might go to a lawyer and sue him.”
“How did he react?” asked Takeshi.
“He yelled that he has nullified the contract so he is no longer responsible for paying us,” said Paco. “That is when he started yelling about being golf partners with the highest-ranking immigration officer in the Los Angeles area and that he will report that we had absconded, and we will be deported.”
“How are you making ends meet now?” asked Takeshi.
“You must already know that we do performances at Spanish establishments that feature entertainment. We would have gone back to Spain already, but we needed to make money here to pay for the flight back, food, and other everyday expenses. Just the expense of moving here depleted our savings. We get more into debt every month. The Spanish business community has helped us tremendously. I know that working here without a permit is not legal. Are you going to arrest us and the business owners for giving us employment?”
Takeshi and Walsh looked at each other. “Well, as far as I’m concerned, you’re all independent contractors so they have no legal obligations to determine if you’re legal or not. As for your troupe, you still have the H-1 visas, which haven’t been revoked, so you’re okay. Besides, this is a domestic issue,” said Takeshi. “Do you know a Juan Talega?”
“This is his house. We have known each other since childhood and trained together. His troupe is highly respected in the United States and Spain. He was kind enough to provide us this place and car without payment when I told him of our situation. A kind and generous friend. What will happen to us?”
“This is a civil issue. We’re not enforcers for people who can’t get their business affairs straight. You have nothing to worry about from us. We better go now. Call me or Agent Walsh if you have any questions.”
“Vamos a ser arrestados y deportados?” asked Carmen.
“No,” replied Paco. “She asked if we were going to get arrested and deported.”
“Gracias,” said both Carmen and Sara, crying.
“No te preocupes . No tienes nada que temer de nosotros,” replied Takeshi. “If she didn’t understand my Spanish, tell her not to worry.”
“Where did you learn such good Spanish?”
“All Migras have to have a working knowledge of Spanish,” said Takeshi.
“Thank you for your kindness. We were worried since the Spanish media here tells us that all Migras here physically beat those who speak Spanish,” said Paco.
“Don’t believe any of that. Your performance at El Cid last night was incredible.”
“What the fuck is going on, not arresting them!” yelled Flores.
“It’s a civil case, a domestic issue,” said Takeshi. “I’m not going to be a strong arm for Kriss. He’s the problem, not the dancers. Kriss couldn’t sell enough tickets so he didn’t pay them. Now, Kriss is doing his ‘I’ll call INS on you’ crap.”
“I’m giving you direct order to arrest them. If you don’t, there’ll be hell to pay.”
“Jorge, you are giving an illegal order. Talked with Perry at Region. According to Dennis, you gave similar order to Hernandez, and we got the shit sued out of us. He told you that you can’t put people into removal proceedings without an official, legally binding order, and an approved request from the sponsor.”
“What does he know, he isn’t an agent.” Look at all these awards! If I didn’t know what I’m doing how could I have been given all these?”
“Is that why Perry is a fourth line supervisor, and you’re only a first line? Besides, most of yours are for administrative and community awards.” Others agents at their desks started to giggle.
“How dare you talk to me like that!” yelled Flores. “Kee, Vancio, Hernandez. Go arrest these dancers!” yelled Flores, waving his arms and stomping up and down.
“No way,” said Kee.
“I heard enough. It ain’t right,” said Vancio.
“Already been sued once, thanks to you,” said Hernandez.
“Will anyone follow my orders?” yelled Flores to the rest of the agents. “I’m going to fuck up your career, Takeshi. I’m going to write you up, suspend you, and fire you!”
Everyone at once left the room.
“Never heard you talk like that before,” said Walsh. “You’re always so calm, even when Jack talks down to you.”
The next day, INS District Director Danny Hudson came to Investigations. He was with an immigration attorney, Ellen Lee. He ignored Flores and came to Takeshi’s desk. “Let me shake your hand,” said Hudson. “Last night Entertainment Tonight aired a rather long segment on the Flamenco dancers. The troupe leader Paco talked about how he was exploited by this character Kriss and threatened them with deportation. Initially, when you and Walsh came to see him, he thought about how you and Walsh would arrest and beat them as portrayed in the media. He said you and Walsh were extremely kind, professional, and compassionate officers. Now that’s the type of image we need to portray to the public! Good job!”
“Thank you, I’m glad to you say that since Supervisor Flores wanted me to Bag N Tag them without a legal withdrawal notification.” Takeshi saw Flores’ right hand shaking. “In fact, I went to Region and Section Chief Perry said such an action was illegal.”
“Director Hudson,” said Flores. “What does Perry know, he’s an adjudicator?”
“I started off as an adjudicator! I‘ve also known him for forty years. He’s highly respected in the Service.”
Ellen was shaking her head.
“Ellen came to me this morning and told me about the segment last night on Entertainment Tonight. At eight o’clock this morning, my office was getting deluged from entertainment promoters who would be willing to sponsor them.”
“I have three other immigration attorneys, as well as myself, who will represent them pro bono,” said Lee. “Also, two law firms that handle civil cases have agreed to represent them pro bono.”
“Wow that’s great! I’ll give Paco a call to have him contact you, Ellen. They’ll be dancing all night.”
“Flores! Did you really order a Bag N Tag?” asked Director Hudson.
“What I meant was a ‘modified’ Bag N Tag.”
The other agents started booing.
“Never heard of a ‘modified’ Bag N Tag,” said Takeshi. You stood right there and ordered me to conduct a Bag N Tag. Remember, you were screaming at me.”
“What the hell is a ‘modified’ Bag N Tag?” asked Director Hudson. ‘In my office in one hour! We’ll have a conference call with Dennis Perry. Go find a box to put your stuff in. And better bring your lawyer!”
“Bye ‘Jack!’ ” Takeshi yelled, as Flores ran out of the room. Then he heard all the other agents cheering.
“Wow!” said Walsh. “Never heard you talk like that. When you get even, you’re pretty nasty.”
The next day, at three a.m., Takeshi received a call from Burbank Police Officer Lynn Rand at three in the morning. “I’m leaving my place now,” said Takeshi.
Thirty-five minutes later, Takeshi arrived at the troupe’s residence. There were six patrol cars and two unmarked cars. Three men, handcuffed behind their backs, were sitting on the sidewalk, guarded by five officers. All of the handcuffed men had on Harley Davidson t-shirts and wore military style boots. “What happened?” asked Takeshi to Rand.
“Home invasion, destruction of property, and terrorist threats. They came in and started to destroy everything. Our detectives are taking statements from the victims. They’re pretty shell shocked. We have a Spanish speaking female woman officer calming the women down.”
“How did you know to call me?”
“Paco give me your business card. He asked me to call you.”
“Are the clowns talking?”
“They’re confessing their sins and blaming a character named Kriss. They know if they talk, they’ll get a good deal. They’ve been in the same spot before,” said Officer Rand.
“What can I do?” asked Takeshi.
“Go talk to them. The detectives will present the case to the district attorney’s office. They’ll arraign these clowns and go arrest Kriss.”
Takeshi went inside. Enrique was picking up the damaged instruments. One of the guitars was broken into three pieces. The costumes on the racks were on the floor. The women were all crying on the couch, the female officer talking to them in Spanish.
“Thank you for coming,” said Paco, sitting on the kitchen table.
“The officers will be arresting these thugs and Kriss,” said Takeshi, as Walsh came inside.
“I’ll brief the officers about what’s going on with this case,” said Walsh,
“I don’t know what to tell you,” said Takeshi.
“They broke the door down, starting yelling ‘Get out of my country.’ Two of them picked up the instruments and started stomping on them and smashing them on the walls and floor. Then they took out knives and started cutting the costumes. Enrique and I tried to stop them, but they were too big. Then they started calling the ladies awful names. The one with red hair wanted Sara to perform a lap dance. Please, help Enrique and the ladies. As a former police officer, I have encountered these types before, but they haven’t and are in shock.”
Juan Talega arrived. He went to speak with Paco and hugged the ladies. “Thank you for being so kind to my friends,” Juan said to Takeshi. “Let me be here with my friends.”
Takeshi knew that intimidation was the norm in sweatshops and factories where illegals worked, but he had never experienced a situation where a sponsor would send thugs out to intimidate people whom they once sponsored. Could he not have done something to have prevented this situation? Should he have known this might happen and taken precautions?
Kriss pled not guilty, and the thugs later refused to cooperate. Their attorneys were all high-priced criminal defense lawyers. Kriss must be paying for them, thought Takeshi.
Takeshi went to Burbank one week later, for Paco wanted to talk with him.
“What!” said Takeshi. “What do mean by you’re going back?”
“Officer Tsukemoto. We can no longer perform here. All of our costumes and instruments are all gone. The ladies are still in shock.”
“Can’t you get new ones?”
“All of our costumes and instruments were handmade, custom made for us. You just can’t get them here, only in Spain by master craftsmen. We are artists, and we need the proper tools to conduct our craft. Even if we could get the tools, we don’t have enough financial resources. Those instruments and costumes represent nearly ten years of our work. It is not something that can be quickly replaced.”
“From what I understand, sponsors are waiting in line to help you. You’ll be making money. Maybe you could get help from the other troupes? And you don’t have to worry about immigration issues.”
“They have helped us enough. I can no longer impose on them.”
“If you’re gone, who’s going to testify against Kriss and his gang?”
“You and I both know getting them prosecuted could take years. I know that they have hired highly paid lawyers, and like in Spain, they can delay the process for years. Years that we cannot afford.”
“Paco, without your cooperation, they’ll be let go to do this to others,”
“That sounds like what I used to say to victims when I was an officer,” said Paco giggling. You said you wanted to be an English professor. It is like having your books and notes destroyed. Years of research take time to replace.”
Two weeks after Paco and the others left, Agent Porter came to Takeshi, now an acting supervisor replacing Flores. “I submitted a fine of sixty thousand dollars on my last sweatshop.”
“Very nice,” said Takeshi.
“Steve Butcher, the head of that unit, said the company was dissolved to they can’t be fined.”
“Butcher said the company was a corporation and now that they do not exist, they can’t be fined.”
Takeshi and Porter went to Butcher’s office. Butcher also had a lot of plaques and awards in his office.
“Why can’t you fine them?” demanded Takeshi.
Butcher swiped his hair from the side to cover a bald spot. “The company is no longer a corporation. That means they no longer exist. You can’t fine something that doesn’t exist.”
“You know they’ll just set up another entity down the street and incorporate again. Can’t they still be held to answer?”
“Technically yes, but that would take a lot of work, and we may not win in court. They also hired the Fragomen law firm, the best.”
“Can’t you even try? Isn’t that your job?” asked Takeshi.
“You’re not a lawyer, so you don’t understand.”
“Hey ‘Butch Head,’ how many times have you said that to me!” yelled Takeshi. “Why do you fine the shit out of small mom and pop businesses who can’t afford a big-time lawyer, and stick your tail up your ass at those big employers who can afford firms like Fragomen.”
“Get out!” yelled Butcher, waving his arms and stomping up and down. “Get out!”
“You’re just a fucking jellyfish. That’s what all the defense lawyers call you,” said Takeshi while Porter grabbing his arm and pulling him out of the office.
“Dude, you need to calm down. What’s with you lately?” asked Porter.
Takeshi went to the New Otani hotel two blocks away. There was a Japanese garden on the roof. He often went there relax and calm down. It was tranquil, with cherry blossom trees, a fountain, Bonsai trees, and a Koi pond. Birds were always chirping. He sat on a stone bench. At least, the sweatshops don’t mask what they’re doing. “Raiding two sweatshops a month. Are we pursuing the real bad guys?” said Takeshi to himself.
Bruce Kamei: After receiving an MFA from Wichita State University (long time ago), he spent twenty-five years as a U.S. immigration special agent, an enforcement branch. Being a Migra, he experienced and saw situations that many could not even imagine, and how it affects both the immigrants and the agents; no one escaped unscathed.