ANN ARBOR, MI – The owner of Ann Arbor’s Sava’s Restaurant said Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials took at least three of her employees into custody the morning of Wednesday, May 24. She said they were being released later Wednesday.
ICE agents were in the restaurant, 216 S. State, around 11:30 a.m. and had breakfast before entering the kitchen area, where they took three people into custody, said owner Sava Lelcaj. She was not in the restaurant at the time. “They came in looking for one person, who was not on duty,” said Lelcaj. Instead, the agents started to question kitchen workers and apprehended three people who were taken to ICE’s Detroit office, Lelcaj said. Those people are now being released, she said Wednesday afternoon. Lelcaj said her company, Savco Hospitality, goes through a vetting process to make sure potential employees have the right documentation to work in the United States. “We do the best we can to hire, to vet and screen and be compliant,” said Lelcaj.
While those taken into custody do have the proper documents to work in the country, they did not have the papers on hand when the agents were at Sava’s, she said. Her team is now working to send that documentation to the Detroit ICE office where the individuals were taken. ICE officials could not be reached immediately for comment. Sava’s remained open for business, Lelcaj said, and community members gathered at the restaurant as the news of what happened spread. “It’s really sad,” Lelcaj said. “It scares the whole community. Today’s a great indication even if you have your documentation, and you’re at the wrong place at the wrong time, you can still be at risk.” Luis Paez, who assists immigrants in the area, said he heard from a customer who was at Sava’s during the ICE visit and made his way to downtown Ann Arbor to help the individuals and their families. He was born in Colombia, and is an American citizen. “I am appalled at the current situation in the United States,” Paez said. “I am trying to get information about what really happened and help as much as we can.”
Some of the other kitchen workers left the restaurant after the incident and are now returning to work. When she was made aware of what was happening, Lelcaj prepped her kitchen stuff so she could jump in and help her staff. “It’s a very sad day here at Sava’s,” Lelcaj said. “These things really shake people up. We have a lot of people who have family roots here.” Ann Arbor Police Chief Jim Baird was made aware by ICE of a targeted enforcement detail at an Ann Arbor restaurant on Wednesday morning, within an hour of the ICE presence there, said Ann Arbor police Detective Lt. Matthew Lige. The department was not asked to participate in the enforcement and did not take part. Lige said the department was not involved in any prior investigation related to immigration at the restaurant and did not provide any information to ICE prior to the enforcement effort.