U.S. Immigration investigators began a relatively routine raid on Washington's Annapolis Hotel at 3 p.m. Tuesday with the idea that they "might get 25" illegal aliens.
But over the next three hours as they staked out the lobby and main hallway there, the number of arrests steadily mounted into the largest number in local immigration history.
By the time they finished, the 13 officers had found and apprehended more than 90 illegal aliens including a professional boxer and a Bolivian weightlifter.
There were more than Washington agents had ever seized at one time and more than the 13 officers could handle by themselves.
The district police, not previously informed of the operation, had to be called in to help transport the aliens from the hotel at 1111 H St. NW to the immigration offices on Vermount Avenue.
The small lock-up there could not even begin to handle all of them.
"We hardly even knew it was going on," said Jesse D. Grogg, head of detention and deportation. "Then about 5 o'clock I heard someone say we got 94, I thought, well, I'll just pass out here."
Questioning and processing of those caught went straight through the night, and even late yesterday afternoon information on just how many aliens were apprehended and what would happen to them was constantly changing.
Joseph A. Mongiello, district diector of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service said 94 were taken from the hotel to headquarters, but two of these were already out on bond pending the outcome of cases made against them after previous arrests. They were released.
Of the remainder, 42 decided to leave the United States voluntarily and immediately after being informed of their rights in English and Spanish.
All were from El Salvador. They were loaded on a bus late Tuesday night, taken to a detention center in New York and are expected to be flown back to their homes today.
Four more were released Tuesday night on their own recognizance: a boxer and a weightlifter from Bolivia who had overstayed their tourist visas; a woman fromGuatemala who has worked as a domestic in Washington for nine years and may be able to apply for "non-deportation" on that basis; and another woman from El Salvador who had an infant in the United States.
"We're not going to (detain) a mama like that," said Mongiello.
Nine 15 to 17-year-old youths from El Salvador were released after preliminary processing. They could still be deported at some later date.
Nine men, mostly from Iran and Africa, who had overstayed tourist or student visas and for various reasons were not thought to be clearly deportable, were released pending hearings at a later date.
Deportation proceedings were started against the remaining 19 men and nine women (two were from Thailand, the rest from El Salvador), but by yesterday evening most had been released on bonds ranging from $500 to $1,500. Those who did not post bail were taken to the Prince George's County jail.
The raid sent shock waves through Washington's Spanish-speaking communities, and immigration officials said yesterday that their phones were ringing constantly with inquiries. The waiting room was crowded with friends and relatives of those still being detained, some of them carrying large suitcases with El Salvadorean addresses marked on them.
Immigration officials said that those caught Tuesday had a wide range of occupations, but most appeared to be employed in restaurants, some of which had trouble starting business yesterday.
The assistant manager of the Gangplank Restaurant said that only one employe there had been picked up, but others who have applied to legalize their status in the United States, were afraid to come to work, he said, and had to be called in one byone.