DSS, immigration agency ordered to sort out problem of left-behind children
A federal judge ordered immigration officials yesterday not to move out of state any of the remaining detainees from Tuesday's raid of a New Bedford sweatshop and to allow them access to lawyers.
Judge Richard G. Stearns also instructed the state Department of Social Services and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to work together to solve the problem of detainees who are mothers or primary caregivers and have been separated from their children. He ordered those agencies to give him a progress report by Tuesday.
"We haven't won, but we have made progress," said lawyer Harvey Kaplan after the hearing at the Moakley Federal Courthouse in South Boston. Kaplan is representing a group of immigration advocates who filed an injunction against the agency Thursday afternoon.
Governor Deval Patrick said yesterday he was receiving more cooperation from immigration officials after several days of tensions over state officials' access to the detainees.
"We now have full names, addresses, and dates of birth," Patrick said at a press conference at a healthcare center in South Boston. He said state officials would compare the information with lists compiled by the advocates during extensive interviews with families affected by the raid.
Today, the Department of Social Services plans to send two teams of 18 people to Texas -- one to El Paso, and the other to Harlingen -- said spokeswoman Denise Monteiro . Commissioner Harry Spence will travel to Harlingen.
Patrick also said that officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement had agreed to release a mother who was flown to Texas. State officials learned the woman was a mother when her 7-year-old child called a hot line created to reunite families following the raid.
"I understand that the federal government has a job to do in enforcing immigration laws and there was a practical reason for them doing it the way they did it," Patrick said. "The problem is when they executed it, it turned into a race to the airport."
Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said during the press conference at the courthouse: "ICE really had no idea about the impact of their actions. They're trying to clean up a mess."
The raid Tuesday morning at Michael Bianco Inc. sent shockwaves through New Bedford's immigrant community, as 361 workers, mostly from Guatemala and El Salvador, were detained because they could not prove they were in this country legally. The owner of the company, Francesco Insolia, and three of his managers were arrested for conspiring to hire illegal aliens. The four posted bond, and the company was open for business the next day.
"I want to extend my most heartfelt sympathy to the families of our loyal workers whose lives have been terribly disrupted by the events of the last few days," Insolia said in a statement. "When the dust has settled on this unfortunate episode, I guarantee that everyone that can be hired and wants to return to work will have a job at Michael Bianco Inc."
"I urge you to withhold judgment until all of the facts come out and these accusations can be confronted in a less chaotic environment and in the proper forum," the statement said.
According to immigration officials, about 70 of the 361 workers detained Tuesday morning have been released . Ninety people are being held in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, at the Bristol County House of Correction , the Barnstable County House of Correction , and the Wyatt Federal Detention Center in Central Falls, R.I. There are 207 detainees in Texas, with 91 at the Port Isabel Service Processing Center in Harlingen and 116 at the El Paso Service Processing Center.
Eight minors were picked up during the raid. Three of them have been released, but the remaining five were taken to a facility in Miami. The immigration agency was in the process of getting them back to New Bedford, said spokesman Marc Raimondi.
"As we have been doing since before the enforcement operation began, we continue to coordinate closely with our federal, state, and local counterparts, including DSS," Raimondi said. "The fact that DSS has not notified us of a single child in a risky or inappropriate setting. . . . says that the cooperation between us has yielded the results intended."