HAYWARD (CBS SF) — Undocumented workers from Mexico, allegedly held against their will and forced to work for a Hayward construction firm, have been rescued in an early morning raid by federal agents.
Federal agents and Hayward police raided the construction business on Dunn Road near Clawiter at 5:00 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Sources told KPIX 5 it was a rescue operation to free undocumented immigrants from a smuggling and forced labor scheme.
Police say at least a dozen people were removed from squalid conditions where there was no running water. They were taken away in vans to what police called a shelter.
Neighbors say they would see the workers coming and going at all hours.
“It seemed like they were in construction, wearing orange jackets and all that,” said neighbor Jeremy Vega. “They were brought in on Hondas and so you would think, ‘Ok, they just got off work.’”
Sources said the workers — all males — were kept in two back warehouses which were locked at night from the outside so they were not free to leave. In the morning, they would be loaded up into a van or truck and taken to construction sites where they would work all day for little or no pay.
The owner of the construction company, Job Torres Hernandez, ran several businesses including one called Foam Legends.
He was arrested and charged with alien smuggling, transportation, and concealing or harboring aliens.
Prosecutors say he smuggled the workers in from Mexico to work exclusively for him, and used coercion tactics to keep them on the job, such as threatening to harm them or their families back home if they complained.
One neighbor who did not want to go on camera couldn’t believe this was happening across the street. “I come working here every day and never did I see something strange.”
The workers will likely get special visas to remain in the U.S. and be called as witnesses against their former boss, sources told KPIX.
Torres Hernandez made an initial appearance in Oakland federal court Tuesday and was scheduled for another hearing Wednesday morning. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.