[URBANTH-L]On the immigration raids in New Bedford
Lisa Maya Knauer
lknauer at umassd.edu
Fri Mar 16 11:52:10 EDT 2007
Last week, after 11 months of surveillance, the ICE raided a
leather-goods factory in New Bedford, Michael Bianco, under contract to
the U.S. military, where a largely immigrant workforce was making
backpacks for U.S. forces. Over 300 workers were rounded up, many of
them mothers with young children (including unweaned infants) and
shipped off to detention facilities, including some as far away as
Texas. Most of the workers who were detained were from Central America
(primarily Guatemalans and Salvadorans, although there were Hondurans,
Ecuadoreans and others), along with Brazilians, Cape Verdeans,
Portuguese and Mexicans.
For those interested in offering material support, a statewide
immigrants rights group, MIRA, is coordinating relief efforts
Donations are being collected for the New Bedford Immigrant
Families/Ninos Fund. The money will be distributed to community
organizations responding in the affected areas. All donations to this
account will be distributed to the local organization administering
services. Online donations can be made at miracoalition.org
Checks can be mailed to the MIRA Coalition, 105 Chauncy St., Boston, MA
02111. Specify in the memo line that the funds are for "New Bedford
Immigrant Families/Ninos Fund." Donations are tax-deductible, and all
donations marked "New Bedford Immigrant Families/Ninos Fund" will be
distributed to appropriate community and service organizations.
To volunteer time and legal, medical or language skills, contact the
MIRA Coalition at its Web site, miracoalition.org
I will send along some articles from the local papers, but here is a
commentary that recently appeared on Portside, concerning the raids and
Bush's recent trip to Guatemala (excuse the formatting glitches and odd
SÃ Es Verdad
by Tim Costello, Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith
March 15, 2007, submitted to Portside by the authors
President Bush got a big surprise on his goodwill visit to
Guatemala this week. Protesters filled the streets of
Guatemala City to denounce an immigration raid that took place
at a leather goods factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts on
March 6th. The raid resulted in the arrest of 361 people,
most of them undocumented immigrants from Guatemala and El
Salvador.Even the President of Guatemala criticized the raids
in his welcoming speech to Bush on his arrival. This is big
news in Guatemala because 10% of the entire Guatemalan
population-many of them undocumented-lives in the US.
The press in Guatemala-and in Massachusetts-has been filled
with stories of the raid and its aftermath of families
shattered,children separated from their parents, and children
being held in federal custody. According to the New York Times:
'Facing pointed questions from Guatemalan journalists,Mr. Bush
stood by the raid, saying, 'People will be treated with
respect,but the United States will enforce our law.Mr. Bush
said he disputed 'conspiracies'relayed by Mr.
Berger [Guatemala's President] that children were taken away
from families. Mr. Bush denied such accounts. 'No es la
verdad,' Mr. Bush said, 'That's not the way America operates.
We're a decent, compassionate country. Those are the kind
ofthings we do not do. We believe in families, and we'll treat
people with dignity.'
Well, sÃ es verdad. Days after the raids the
Massachusetts Department of Social Services ( DSS) reported
that they 'could not connect 100 children with their
families'. One woman arrested in the raid was flown back from
Texas where she was being held when her 7 year old daughter
called a hot line created to unite families divided by the raid
to ask about her mother'swhereabouts. Two nursing infants were
hospitalized for dehydration when they were separated from
Once again Bush is either lying or out of touch with reality.
The events of this raid have been well documented and
roundly condemned by the press and politicians in Massachusetts
across the political spectrum. In the era of global
communications, people in Guatemala didn't even have to rely
on the media; they could pick up the phone and call their
relatives in New Bedford to find out what was really going on.
The New Bedford raid had what is by now a familiar feel to it.
On March 6, up to 500 government agents, police, and others
surrounded the Michael Bianco, Inc.leather goods factory in
New Bedford Massachusetts. Inside, anannouncement came over
loudspeakers, 'Stay where you are. Immigration agents are in
the building.' Panic ensued as workers made a run for it,but
the exits were blocked, some by police with guns drawn. Some
workers scurried into hiding places, hoping to wait out the
When the building was finally locked down agents instructed US
citizens or green card holders to move to one area and all
others to another area. Workers were interviewed. Some were
released in a few hours because of compelling health or family
reasons. But most were loaded onto buses and transported to a
holding facility on Fort Devens, a former military base about
60 miles away.
Following processing at Fort Devens, 70 of those arrested
were released for a variety reasons within a few days, 90 are
being held in various jails in Massachusetts and Rhode Island,
and 207 were flown far from their homes and families to jails
in Texas. 8 minors were picked up, 3 were released the rest
are being held in Miami.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick engaged in a few
testy exchanges with the Department of Homeland Security as did
Senators Kennedy and Kerry and other members of the state's
Congressional delegation. Patrick attacked the 'race to the
airport,' to move the workers out ofstate before they could be
properly interviewed. Kennedy compared the effect of the raids
to, 'the tragedy and human suffering that we all
witnessed after the devastation wreaked by Hurricane
Katrina....These men and women had not harmed anyone. They were
victims of exploitation, forced to work under barbaric
conditions by an employer who knew that they could not afford
to complain. Their children, many of whom are United States
citizens, had done nothing wrong at all. None of them had any
reason to expect that the Departmentof Homeland Security would
decide to make an example out of them."
Kerry called for a Congressional investigation of the raid.
Meanwhile, immigrant rights groups rushed to court and won
a federal court order to halt the out of state flights. But
most of the captives had already been moved.
The Massachusetts DSS sent two teams of 18 social workers
to Texas to interview those arrested. They asked that 21 mothers
be returned to Massachusetts immediately. While the Department
of Homeland Security maintains that it has worked closely with
DSS in the aftermath of the raids, DSS Commissioner
Harry Spence angrily denies this: 'They stopped us at every
step of the way.ICE's rhetoric has been completely different
from the truth.'
The company-owned by Michael Bianco-makes backpacks and vests
for the military under a $138 million contract, and
employs about 500 people. The firm also makes high end leather
goods for name brands like Coach, Inc.
Bianco and four others were arrested following the raid
and charged with knowingly employing undocumented workers or
providing false documents to workers. But unlike the workers,
Bianco and the managers were immediately released on bail and
were back at work the next day.
The Pentagon's contract rules encourage sweatshop production
like those that exist at Bianco, Inc. IN fact,
Massachusetts' politicians complained to the Department of
Defense long before the raids about poor labor conditions in
factories producing uniforms and other articles for the
military, although they did not specially mention Bianco.
At a press conference announcing the raid US Attorney Michael
Sullivan pointed to the 'horrible' conditions in the
plant.Indeed an 11 month long investigation, which included
the use of undercover agents, turned up evidence of classic
sweatshop conditions: low wages, no benefits, harsh working
conditions which included restrictions on workers talking or
using restrooms, and workers' pay being docked for
infractions of workplace rules.
Yet no attempt was made to enforce labor laws. Instead,
the victims of the labor abuse were arrested and transported
and their children subjected to what, by virtually any
definition, is child abuse by federal authorities.
The story of the New Bedford raid is still unfolding. But it
could have areal impact on the current immigration debate.
Many advocates of immigration reform see the increase in
the number of raids by the Bush Administration as a move to
satisfy both the hard-line anti-immigrant wing of the
Republican Party and the corporate wing that wants access to
cheap immigrant labor through a guest worker program.
By creating a crisis, the Bush Administration hopes to push
through an immigration reform bill that it likes. It's unclear
whether the strategy will be successful.
On the one hand, many well meaning people-and some not so well-
meaning people-are now calling for immediate action
on comprehensive immigration reform. Massachusetts Senator
Kennedy is preparing to refile a bill similar to one filed in
the last session of Congress that attracted bi-partisan
support. That bill would provide an amnesty for many ofthose
already living in the US. But it would also create a guest
worker program for future immigrant flows and increase funding
for enforcement. It is as we have often written a bad
bill. It will not prevent future immigrant flows; it does not
stop New Bedford- style raids but instead increases enforcement
funding; and it creates a guest worker program that
could institutionalize sweatshops, since it is clear that
authorities are not interested in enforcing labor laws even
when they know from their own investigations that rampant labor
law violations exist.
On the other hand, the New Bedford raid could have a positive
blowback effect. As a result of Bush's visit to Latin America
and the protests in Guatemala, the raid may serve to highlight
the need for a hemispheric approach to immigration reform. Real
reform must involve both the sending and the receiving
countries and as the US moves to further militarize the border
and more draconian raids take place, Latin Americans are
demanding more of a say in how immigration is managed. Latin
American countries weighed in on the U.S.immigration law
reform debate last year, and the coalitions of social
movements and labor such as the Hemispheric Social Alliance
have long proposed principlesto regulate immigration
throughout the Americas.
It's time for immigrant rights advocates, labor unions, and
other elements of global civil society with a stake in
US immigration policy to step into the vacuum and create a new
immigration discourse and program based the realities of
immigrant flows in the age of globalization .
[Tim Costello, Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith are theco-
founders of Global Labor Strategies, a resource center
providing research and analysis on globalization, trade and
labor issues. GLS staff have published many previous reports on
a variety of labor-related issues, including OutsourceThis!
American Workers, the Jobs Deficit, and the Fair Globalization
Solution,Contingent Workers Fight For Fairness, and Fight
Where You Stand!: WhyGlobalization Matters in Your Community
and Workplace. They have also written and produced the Emmy-
nominated PBS documentary Global Village or GlobalPillage? GLS
has offices in New York, Boston, and Montevideo,Uruguay.
Formore on GLS visit: www.laborstrategies.blogs.com or email
info at laborstrategies.org.]
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