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8 detained in Williston restaurant raid

WILLISTON, N.D. — The owner of a popular Williston restaurant says he temporarily shut down the business last week to reorganize his staff after federal immigration officials took eight employees whose visas were believed to have been expired into custody.

Simon Chan returned from vacation on Jan. 31 to find agents with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations division at Basil. Authorities searched through the restaurant's financial records and detained two women and six men who were employed at the restaurant.

Four of those people remain in the custody of ICE, Chan said, while the other four have since shown that their working permits are unexpired. They have been released from a holding facility in Minnesota, and two of them are returning to Williston, he said.

The search was part of an 10-month-long ongoing investigation into an alleged tax scheme, authorities say.

Simultaneous actions were done in Wyoming, where, according to media reports, two Chopstix Asian Bistro locations were temporarily shut down after three people believed to be in the U.S. illegally were detained by ICE.

A total of 11 people were "administratively arrested" in the inter-state operation, Carl Rusnok, an ICE spokesman, said. Those detained are from Guatemala, Mexico and Indonesia.

"A federal immigration judge will determine the disposition of each individual on a case-by-case basis," he said.

They are being held under ICE custody, although it's unclear where those taken in North Dakota are now.

"Initially, they may have been held in Grand Forks. However, ICE may have transferred them to a different facility, which is a common practice based on available bedspace," Rusnok said in an email.

He declined to talk further about the financial and tax investigation.

Those detained in Williston are from Mexico and Indonesia, and worked as servers, cooks and kitchen staff, Chan said. He'd hired several when Basil opened more than three years ago, while the rest were on staff for at least a year.

Their paperwork was current when he hired them, but it was the employees' responsibility to make sure their permits remained valid, he added.

The restaurants in Wyoming are not connected to his business, Chan said, although he hires a Wyoming accountant to do his taxes.

The incident sparked curiosity and online speculation, which Chan dismissed as unsubstantiated.

"They're very supportive," he said of his customers. "They know me, they see me. I care about the business and about the food."