Forty-six people suspected of being in the country illegally were discovered when federal immigration authorities and the Internal Revenue Service carried out search warrants at an Atlanta-area chain of Hispanic grocery stores Thursday, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
ICE issued notices to 43 of them to appear in federal Immigration Court and then released them. It arrested three others – one Mexican and two Guatemalan store employees who had previously been deported — and took boxes of documents and computers from the Super Mercado Jalisco stores, said ICE spokesman Lindsay Williams.
Williams declined to identify the three people ICE arrested and said he had no information about the 43 others, though he said they were all encountered by coincidence. The federal agencies executed the search warrants at six stores in Duluth, Marietta, Norcross, Lawrenceville and Roswell.
“As we were going through records and interviewing people, we encountered these folks,” Williams said. “We weren’t there targeting anybody.”
Williams also would not say what the authorities were searching for, but he said the IRS was the lead agency and that officials with ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations directorate assisted the probe.
An IRS spokesman declined to comment other than to say: “We were out yesterday conducting official business.”
Jose Luis Covarrubias, CEO of Super Mercado Jalisco, issued a statement Thursday, saying the search warrants were obtained under seal and did not indicate exactly what the federal agents were looking for.
“As a prominent employer in the Atlanta area,” he said, “and as a major contributor to our local Hispanic communities, Super Mercado Jalisco is disappointed in the heavy-handed tactics of the federal government. Super Mercado Jalisco maintains the strictest standards on compliance and completion of all of the necessary paperwork required by the federal government.”
A pair of former Jalisco employees sued Covarrubias and the store chain in 2017, alleging they were not paid overtime as hourly employees. Two months later, they filed a court notice to dismiss the case.
AJC staff writer Shaddi Abusaid contributed to this report.
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