U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service investigators raided Blackie's House of Beef yesterday in a crucial test of the agency's power to search for and arrest illegal aliens on private property.
As immigration officials walked through the restaurant at 22nd and M streets NW shortly before luncheon crowds began to arrive, workers could be seen charging out the front door and sprinting down the street with investigators in hot pursuit. Others were found hiding behind boxes near the kitchen, while two tried briefly to blockade the door of a utility room as INS agents battered it open.
One woman and 13 men were apprehended during the raid, according to INS officials. Initial questioning at the agency's district headquarters confirmed that all of them were working unlawfully in the United States, INS officials said.
District of Columbia law does not prohibit employment of illegal aliens.
A previous raid on Blackie's in March was declared unlawful by a U.S. District Court here last month because of general criminal search warrent had been used, and such a court order is applicable only to searches for property, not people.
The decision by Judge Louis F. Oberdorfer had caused grave concern among INS officials who feared that they would, in effect, be prohibited from seeking out illegal foreign workers without the consent of their employers.
"The Blackie's decision pretty well tied our hands," one INS investigator said yesterday, since most of the hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens caught in the United States are found at the places where they work.
After consultation with high officials in the Justice Department and the local U.S. attorney's office, INS investigators decided to carry out yesterday's raid on Blackie's using a type of civil warrant they never before have used.
In addition to the investigators who usually participate in such an operation, the INS national office sent two lawyers and a press spokesman along on yesterday's raid. A reporter for The Washington Post was also notified just before the action began.
"Do you think they (the INS) have a vendetta against us?" Ulysses S. Auger II asked the reporter, as agents rounded his employes. Auger said that his family's dozen restaurants in Washington and Virginia have been raided "six or seven times" over the past five years.
INS officials denied having any sore of grudge against Blackie's. They said that long observation of the restaurant and statements to the press made by its owners had given them probable cause to believe illegal aliens were still working there.
The 10 investigators who arrived at Blackie's just after 11 a.m. yesterday were under strict orders not to disrupt the restaurant's business, according to one of the lawyers who accompanied them. But once their presence was known, the usual chaos of an immigration raid broke out.
Two white-jacketed busboys sprinted through the front door, one of them ducking under the arms of a waiting investigator outside. As the agent and a colleague took off after that pair, another young man in a kitchen uniform quietly walked out of the building, strolled to the corner and then easily jogged away down M Street.
Another alien grappled with a young INS agent at the door, slowly slipping away from him and almost losing his shirt in the process before scrambling away down 22nd Street.
The kitchen, normally bustling in preparation for lunch, was almost deserted as the INS agents searched its closets and the refrigerators. Last March they had discovered a chilly El Salvadorean trying to hide in a refrigerator.
After about 40 minutes, the agents had caught 14 illegal aliens - 11 from El Salvador, 1 from Bolivia, 1 from Thailand, and a woman from Honduras. All except the woman were handcuffed. They were given a chance to change into their street clothes, then loaded into a van to be taken to the INS district office for questioning.
Auger, meanwhile, was in contact with his lawyer, Jack Wasserman, already planning new legal action against the government.
Wasserman contends that Judge Oberdorfer's ruling early last month, recent Supreme Court decisions and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution preclude the use of search of warrants to arrest people. "You can't go in on a general warrant," he said, "and that's what they're using."
INS lawyers said yesterday that the warrant they obtained Thursday from U.S. Magistrate Lawrence S. Margolis is valid, however, because it specifically authorizes them to search for illegal aliens and is based on civil rather than criminal procedures.
One of the El Salvadoreans apprehended in the raid yesterday has already been picked up by the INS twice before - once at Blackie's - according to investigators, and he will probably be held without bond pending a deportation hearing.
The Honduran woman has a brother and mother who are legal residents in the United States, but they never petitioned to bring her legally into the country. INS officials told her family yesterday that she will probably have to go back to her home country before she can enter the United States legally.