Friday, March 09, 2007

US immigration system at its worst

A child was held by her mother at a news conference in New Bedford the day after her father was among 327 employees of Michael Bianco Inc. who were detained by immigration officials. (Peter Periera/The New Bedford Standard Times via Associated Press)

This is very disturbing. I’ve compiled several reports for you (below). This is a humanitarian crisis indeed. How can our policies and our nation be so cruel to children?

A way to think about immigrants—a much more positive way—is that Americans are outsourcing their labor needs no differently than is currently being done with India and China. The difference is that Latina/o immigrants remain as a domestic population in the U.S. which means that they re-invest in our economy. I credit this re-articulation to John Guerra, President of the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce.


US immigration system at its worst

By Ali Noorani in the Boston Globe, March 9, 2007

Ali Noorani is executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition

"HAS ANYONE seen my wife? She left for work yesterday and never came home. Our newborn baby is hungry and crying. Can someone please help?" asks a young father in the basement of a crowded church, one clear voice above the din of the hundreds gathered. The fear is palpable in the young man's eyes. He implores the listener to offer solace, hope, and encouragement.
There were hundreds of people searching for news about their loved ones, fighting back nervous tears. They found no information and no answers. Only chaos. And pain. And fear.
For the past three days, this has been the scene at St. James Church in New Bedford.
This is the result of failed immigration laws. This is the nation's immigration system at its worst.
On Tuesday, more than 500 armed homeland security officers descended upon Michael Blanco Inc. The owner of the factory, and a few of his senior staff, were arrested for hiring undocumented workers and creating false documents. They were out on bail and home with their families that night.
Approximately 350 employees, mostly mothers with young children, were swept up in the raid, shackled together in groups of three by their wrists and ankles and marched to buses bound for Fort Devens, 100 miles away. Without any legal representation or due process, these workers were asked for their immigration documentation and encouraged by immigration officers to choose voluntary deportation regardless of whether an immigration application was in process.
The irony of the story is that these employees were manufacturing the materials that keep US soldiers in Iraq safe from harm. Their skills as craftspeople served our country at a time of great need. Yet instead of being treated like heroes for their role in the war effort, they and their families are treated like traitors.
President Bush and his administration have decided to prioritize the detention and deportation of young mothers at taxpayer expense, and at the expense of our troops.
These families in New Bedford escaped severe poverty and oppressive governments because they dared to believe in the American Dream. Ineligible for public benefits, they work every day and pay taxes in hopes of providing a better future for their children and their communities.
These families are victims of unscrupulous employers and an ad hoc set of laws.
Immigration laws today are unjust not only for those yearning to be free, but also for everyone struggling for a better future for their children.
Now, New Bedford manufacturers and fish cutters feel the impact. In the days ahead, it will reverberate throughout Southeastern Massachusetts and the rest of the state.
The immigration reform debate will again emerge in the weeks ahead as legislation is introduced in Congress. We hope for the best but fear the worst. We hope our elected officials show the courage to make sure immigrant families, our families, are protected; we fear our officials and the politics of hate will let us down.
How can we look into the eyes of a young mother who has fled the repressive government and economic perils of Guatemala to stitch safety vests for our troops and tell her to leave? How can we look into the eyes of a young father of an eight- month old baby dehydrated because his mother has been detained and tell him he doesn't belong here?
If we allow this to continue, we will turn our backs on liberty and the American Dream. Irrational fears will only drive us to the wrong side of history. Let us live up to the dreams of every immigrant of every generation that had the courage to come to this country to make a better life for their families.
Workers, families unsure of next step after raid
>By BECKY W. EVANS, New Bedford (MA) Standard-Times staff writer
>March 8, 2007
>New Bedford is facing a "humanitarian mess," with children separated from
>their parents and hundreds of illegal immigrants almost certain to be sent
>to out-of-state detention facilities, advocates charged yesterday.
>"Families are totally being torn apart," said Carly Burton, a policy
>associate with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
>"Kids don't know where their parents are. It's a humanitarian mess."
>"We are extremely concerned about the effect on these people's rights if
>they are shipped out of the area to a place they don't know and have no
>community," said Nancy Kelly, a managing attorney for the immigration unit
>at Greater Boston Legal Services.
>Meanwhile, Bay State congressional leaders yesterday called for changes to
>U.S. immigration policy, and Gov. Deval Patrick mobilized the Department of
>Social Services to provide emergency support for children and families
>affected by the raid.
>Tuesday's massive sweep by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at
>Michael Bianco Inc. in the South End resulted in the detainment of 320
>illegal immigrants, of which 275 were taken by bus to Fort Devens in Ayer.
>The illegal workers include illegal immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador,
>Honduras, Guatemala, Cape Verde, Portugal and Brazil. They were hired by
>Francesco Insolia, owner of Michael Bianco, and paid minimum wage without
>health benefits.
>Mr. Insolia and three of the company's managers were arrested during the
>raid and charged in connection with the alleged hiring of illegal
>immigrants. A fifth person was arrested on charges that he provided factory
>workers with false identification documents.
>The detainees spent Tuesday night in dormitories at Fort Devens, a former
>Army base. One New Bedford man said his Brazilian friend reported that she
>was placed in a room with five other people.
>The man, fearful of giving his name, stood outside the brick factory
>yesterday waiting to see if his friend would be released back to New
>Bedford. He was joined by family and friends who also waited for the return
>of their loved ones.
>At the plant yesterday, employee Grace Melo said she was worried about
>keeping her job.
>She said she was told by a supervisor to come to work, but said "I have no
>idea what will happen."
>She described yesterday's raid as "scary."
>"It was a shock to all of us."
>Legal employees of Michael Bianco returned to work yesterday, but many
>seemed unsure of what to do.
>Administrative assistant Nancy Franco said the plant was open, but that
>nothing was being done.
>She said she had yet to speak to the company's owner.
>Some employees said they were concerned about keeping their jobs given the
>uncertainty of the company's future.
>At Fort Devens, federal agents began a second round of interviews with
>detainees, ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said.
>He said the majority will be flown to detention facilities outside of
>Massachusetts, where they will appear before an immigration court judge for
>deportation proceedings.
>Depending on the judge's decision, the detainees will either be deported to
>their home countries or allowed to return to New Bedford, he said.
>The length of stay at the detention facilities depends on where the
>immigrants are from, Mr. Rocha said. Deportation to Mexico is quicker than
>those to other countries such as El Salvador and Honduras, he said.
>"Every country has a different type of immigration policy," he said.
>He estimated that the average stay at detention facilities in Texas is 18
>days. If detainees appeal, they could stay longer, he said.
>If deported, immigrants will face poverty and political unrest when they
>return to countries that many left for the same reasons, said Corinn
>Williams, director of the Community Economic Development Center of
>Southeastern Massachusetts.
>"Guatemala is one of the most violent countries," she said.
>Rev. Marc Fallon of Catholic Social Services spoke during a press conference
>yesterday at Our Lady of Guadelupe Parish at St. James Church. He said most
>of the detainees are "refugees of civil war" who suffer from post-traumatic
>stress disorder.
>He blamed federal enforcement agents for increasing their stress by raiding
>the factory and surrounding it with helicopters. He said the focus of the
>operation should have remained on the owners of the factory, not the illegal
>immigrants who worked there.
>"The detainees are being punished for the sin of corporate perpetrators," he
>When the detainees will leave Fort Devens and where they will go remained
>uncertain yesterday, but Mr. Rocha noted that there are facilities along the
>U.S.-Mexico border equipped to hold detainees.
>Once the detainees are moved out of Massachusetts it will be more difficult
>for family and friends to arrange and pay for legal services, said Ms.
>Kelly, an attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services.
>"This raid happened in Massachusetts, and even the ability to rally lawyers
>for pro bono cases will be affected" if the detainees are sent out of state,
>she said.
>Ms. Kelly spent Tuesday night at Fort Devens offering free legal counsel to
>the detainees. She was joined by seven colleagues from GBLS and one attorney
>from ACLU Boston.
>The lawyers provided counsel to 10 detainees - mostly women with children,
>Ms. Kelly said.
>"They were frantic," she said. "We tried to figure out what was going on
>advise them of what rights they have and figure out if there was a mother
>with a child so we could bring it to the attention of ICE."
>Many of the Fort Devens detainees have children, Ms. Kelly said.
>"I can say anecdotally that a lot of people hesitate to tell immigration
>agents that they have children, because they don't know what is going to
>happen to them," she said. "They don't want DSS to take them, and they fear
>what is going to happen."
>During the press conference, immigrant advocates estimated that between 70
>and 210 children were missing a parent who had been caught in the raid.
>Mr. Rocha reported that 45 detainees were released from the factory Tuesday
>after the raid for humanitarian reasons, which included medical problems and
>family and childcare issues.
>An additional 15 detainees - all women - were released yesterday from Fort
>Devens, also for humanitarian reasons, ICE spokeswoman Paula Grenier said.
>The women were transported to New Bedford.
>Mr. Rocha said those who have been released are "not free from immigration
>If they fail to appear for their court hearing, they "will be a fugitive
>from the law," he said.
>Mothers and fathers with children who are U.S. citizens will face a
>difficult choice if they are deported, Mr. Rocha said.
>They can either take the child with them or leave them in the United States
>under the care of a family member or friend, he said.
>He said those who are deported usually opt to take their children with them.
>The office of Rep. William Delahunt, who serves on the House Judiciary
>Committee which has oversight over federal policies on immigration, was
>working with ICE yesterday to allow Department of Social Services staff to
>gain access to detainees.
>Gov. Deval Patrick contacted Rep. Delahunt yesterday and also mobilized DSS
>staff to assist families.
>"The Department of Social Services needs to have staff on site at Fort
>Devens to provide support for the detainees and coordinate support for their
>children," Gov. Patrick wrote in a letter to Rep. Delahunt.
>In the meantime, DSS is working with local officials and community activists
>to help the families.
>The department has found 29 foster homes for children affected by
>yesterday's actions, has matched at least 35 children to families being held
>at Fort Devens and is checking with local schools to determine if students
>who are absent are affected by the ongoing events.
>Bay State congressional leaders cited Tuesday's raid as one reason to change
>U.S. immigration policy.
>"People see how disruptive this is," said U.S. Rep. Barney Frank. "To think
>you can do this 10,000 times is a mistake.
>U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who is co-sponsoring an immigration reform bill
>with Arizona Sen. John McCain, said the best way to end the exploitation of
>undocumented workers is to put them on a path to earn legal status.
>The Kennedy-McCain bill, which would allow immigrants to earn legal status
>by fulfilling requirements over a number of years, is scheduled to be
>introduced by mid-March.
>Elsa Maldonado, a New Bedford resident and U.S. citizen, weighed in on the
>immigration debate while standing yesterday outside the factory.
>"They should give them amnesty," Ms. Maldonado said. "These people are not
>bothering anybody. They are just working. There is no such thing as illegal
Children stranded after immigration raid in New Bedford, MA
A.P., March 7, 2007
Dozens of young children were stranded at schools and with baby-sitters after their parents were rounded up by federal authorities who raided a leather goods maker suspected of hiring illegal immigrants, authorities said Wednesday.
About two-thirds of the 500 employees of Michael Bianco Inc., mostly women, were detained Tuesday by immigration officials for possible deportation as illegal aliens.
As a result, about 100 children were stuck with baby sitters, caretakers and others, said Corinn Williams, director of the Community Economic Development Center of Southeastern Massachusetts.
"We're continuing to get stories today about infants that were left behind," she said. "It's been a widespread humanitarian crisis here in New Bedford."
The state Department of Social Services was working Wednesday to make sure the children receive proper care. Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie Myers said eight pregnant women were released and women who were sole caregivers of children would also be released, but it takes time to verify people's accounts.
During the federal raid Tuesday, company owner Francesco Insolia, 50, and three top managers were arrested. Authorities allege Insolia oversaw "sweatshop" conditions so he could meet the demands of $91 million in U.S. military contracts.
U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan accused Insolia of exploiting the illegals to maximize his profits on the military contracts for production of backpacks and safety vests for soldiers. A fifth person was arrested on charges of helping illegals obtain fake identification.
Investigators described dingy conditions and said the illegal workers faced onerous fines, such as a $20 charge for talking while working and spending more than two minutes in the bathroom.
"They were given no options. It's either here, or the risk of no income at all," U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said, comparing the plant to sweatshops from the early 1900s. "Clearly, they were exploited because of the fact they were here illegally."
Insolia's lawyer, Inga Bernstein, said: "The whole story will come out, and at that point it will be a very different scenario."
Michael Bianco Inc., founded in 1985, specialized in manufacturing high-end leather goods for retailers including Coach Inc. and Timberland Co. before landing a $9.4 million military contract in 2003 to make survival vests.
From 2004 and 2006, it won $82 million in military contracts to make products including lightweight backpacks. An Army spokesman did not return a call seeking comment about the status of the contracts.

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