[In early March], 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.
Read also Locking Up Family Values, a report about the prison-like conditions at Dept. of “Homeland Security’s” “facilities,” via the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, also courtesy of Angela Valenzuela.
The workplace rules and the conditions at the factory qualify it as a sweatshop . The factory’s main contract was with the Defense Department. The Army must have known about the nineteenth-century like factory conditions…because it maintained an office at the factory.
Though the raid at the Massachusetts leather factory has evoked plenty of comment around the country, especially from immigrant-bashers, the DoD has remained almost silent about its role in permitting this to continue for years. And what little it has said is almost certainly false
In March The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyer’s Guild issued a call for a Moratorium on Immigration Raids, asking that the U.S. government:
…immediately halt the immigration raids that have been devastating communities across the United States. The brutal, unfair, and hostile treatment that accompanies these raids is an affront to both the immigrant and citizen communities. Furthermore, these raids underscore the need for immigration reform that restores due process, fairness, and accountability to everyone who enters the immigration system.
The recent raid in New Bedford, Massachusetts, underscores the cruel and
inhumane impact on the workers detained, their families, their U.S.
citizen children, and the broader community. In recent months DHS has
overzealously conducted an increased number of raids in several states,
including California, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota,
Mississippi, Nebraska, and Texas. In these often military-style operations, DHS has arrested and detained a massive number of workers who could not immediately prove their immigration status. …
We also call on DHS to:
1. Investigate allegations that detained individuals have been denied access to counsel, illegally interrogated, and subjected to abusive treatment.
2. Halt transfers of those arrested by DHS.
3. Provide accurate and timely lists of pro bono attorneys and nonprofit agencies that may assist detainees in securing legal representation.
4. Notify counsel and family members within 24 hours of transferring any
5. Provide prompt custody hearings, and release individuals on their own recognizance.
6. Promulgate humane and enforceable regulations for the treatment of
those detained, including provisions for dealing with minor children of
7. Allow state service-providers to access individuals detained by DHS to assist with care of minor children or other vulnerable family members.
8. Afford detained workers who have been unfairly and illegally exploited at the raided places of employment to pursue labor claims
against their employers.
*/As our organizations struggle to assist families and communities devastated by these raids, we have witnessed the following:/*
*/Indiscriminate, discriminatory raids. /
*Reports from around the country show that with the escalation of raids in recent months, no part of our communities has been left unscathed. Instead of targeting
individual wrongdoers or those engaged in widespread criminal enterprise, DHS agents have arrested people based on their racial/ethnic appearance, accent, or limited English skills. In Minnesota during the
Swift raids, workers and advocates in the Swift plant reported that individuals were first divided into groups by the color of their skin and that white workers were not even questioned. Using military-style tactics, DHS agents terrorized communities and workers by barging into apartments and seizing the occupants, apprehending parents picking up their children from school, confronting restaurant patrons about their
immigration status, raiding day laborer sites, and sweeping up workers wherever they could. Entire communities have been devastated – children abandoned and ripped apart from their parents, families made fearful to leave their homes and terrified to send their children to school – which in turn has made all our communities less safe.
*/Due process rights violated and inhumane treatment of arrested individuals. /
*Even more disturbing are the reports of cruel treatment of workers during and after the raids. Our organizations have received
reports that common practices have included the following:
1. DHS entered factory floors with semi-automatic weapons and proceeded
to physically restrain those suspected of lacking immigration status.
2. DHS agents used inappropriate force in carrying out raids
3. DHS refused or failed to provide for the most basic needs – including food, water, and medical treatment – of detained workers, including pregnant women.
4. DHS intentionally and routinely utilized a process of transferring detained workers to far-flung detention centers across the country, even in cases where the transfer separated them from minor children or
vulnerable family members. For example, within hours of arrest in Massachusetts, workers were flown to remote detention facilities in south and west Texas. These transfers effectively bar access to counsel
and cause wide-scale panic in communities whose members do not know how to find or help their loved ones. DHS is one of the largest jailers in the world and continues to hold individuals in prisons, jails, and
detention centers where thousands of detainees are routinely denied necessary medical care, visitation, legal materials, or functioning telephones. These violations underscore the need for regulations to
govern the treatment of those detained by DHS.
5. The raids separated hundreds children from their mothers, who often were their only care-takers. Members of our organizations working with
detainees discovered that a significant number of the undocumented women
and children detained in these raids are eligible for status, particularly as victims of crimes, but ICE did not inform them of this.
Unfortunately many women and children were summarily deported before they could learn of the special routes to status Congress created for them. Such enforcement actions seriously undermine the Congressional and
national goals of challenging violence against women and children.
*//**/No day in court for workers./* Coercive tactics are often used to obtain signatures from the detained workers on “stipulated removal orders,” which can result in their being removed from the U.S. and losing any opportunity to present a defense or obtain permanent status
and be reunited with family members – without the workers ever even
having the opportunity to appear before a judge.