Springetts restaurant reopens after immigration raid

Junior Gonzalez
  • Aroma Buffet closed suddenly on February 13, originally citing "kitchen equipment upgrades."
  • A raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested at least four workers at the restaurant.
  • Once assured they were not a priority, some undocumented residents are now being taken into custody.

Aroma Buffet & Grill in Springettsbury Township reopened Wednesday after an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid that resulted in the loss of at least four workers.

Thursday, Feb. 17, 2017.   John A. Pavoncello photo

Immigration attorney Stephen Converse confirmed that officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested four of his clients who were employed at Aroma on Feb. 13.

The individuals taken into custody were all men and were undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala, according to Converse. He declined to release their names.

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Converse said instead of focusing on individuals who have committed criminal offenses, ICE agents have lowered their standard for detainment.

“They’re picking up people with no criminal contacts whatsoever,” he said. Converse said some of his clients have children who are minors.

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One of his clients was interviewed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in November, Converse said.

Thursday, Feb. 17, 2017.   John A. Pavoncello photo

“At the time, they told him, ‘That’s alright; you’re not a priority.’ Then they come back in February and take him into custody,” he said. “All of a sudden, he’s a priority for detention.”

At this point, Converse said raids are occurring “constantly” around the state. He said he believes ICE agents are now going back through their files to find those they had previously encountered and comforted with their nonprioritized-status claims.

“Now they are low-hanging fruit,” he said.

While he plans to argue ICE’s prior claims of relative security to his clients, Converse said, “that won’t do much good legally.”

Given the random nature of the raids, he said there is little that can be suggested to undocumented immigrants fearful of being taken into custody.

“I don’t really have any good advice,” he said. “Am I going to tell them to hide? Move to Idaho? Of course not."

At the very least, Converse said, undocumented immigrants “should have legal resources in place” ahead of any potential encounter with immigration officials.

Attempts to reach U.S. Immigration and Customs enforcement by phone to respond to Converse's claims were met with an automated response directing that questions be emailed to the agency. The agency responded with the following statement:

"As a matter of policy, the agency does not discuss specific tactics. However, each individual arrested was the subject of a targeted enforcement action in which specific individuals were sought for immigration violations. The operation was conducted consistent with ICE policy and the same level of professionalism and respect that ICE officers exhibit every day."

In a Facebook post published several days after the raid, the restaurant stated that it closed due to a “kitchen equipment upgrade,” and made no mention of a personnel shortage. That post has since been deleted from the account.

Aroma Buffet Manager Kyle Lin declined to comment for this story.