Raid on Illegal Immigrants Brings Chaos to Town A roundup of illegal workers in New Bedford, Mass., last week continues to spark criticism about the federal government's handling of the raid. Nursing infants were separated from their mothers, and older children were left in inappropriate care when immigration officials took their parents.
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Raid on Illegal Immigrants Brings Chaos to Town

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Raid on Illegal Immigrants Brings Chaos to Town

Raid on Illegal Immigrants Brings Chaos to Town

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Last week's immigration raid in Massachusetts has led to a humanitarian disaster, so says the state's governor, Deval Patrick. The operation resulted in the arrest of more than 300 people who allegedly were working illegally at a factory in New Bedford. Many of the workers were women with small children.

Immigration authorities soon let some single mothers go, others were released later, thanks to intervention by the state. But as Bianca Vazquez Toness reports, it's been more than a week since the raid and the community is still feeling the reverberations.

BIANCA VAZQUEZ TONESS: A few days after the raid, Evelyn de Leon's(ph) room was just the way she left it. Her make-up, clothing and giant stuffed teddy bears were there, but there was no Evelyn.

CANDELARIA DE LEON: (Speaking foreign language)

VAZQUEZ TONESS: Her mother, Candelaria(ph), says she's sad about her daughter. Normally, she's there watching television, laying on her bed with her stuffed animals, but now look how things are. Immigration agents detained the mother and daughter last week at the factory where they made gear for the U.S. military. De Leon was released when she told officials she had two other small children at home. She says Evelyn's work papers say she's 18. Authorities sent the girl to a detention center in Miami.

Within hours of the raid, Massachusetts' caseworkers complained that breastfeeding-mothers, single parents and minors were among those the Feds detained. But by the time caseworkers got permission to interview those held, more than half of them had been flown to detention centers.

Immigration authorities said they interviewed each detainee carefully to determine if their children will be left without care. But Marc Raimondi from Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it's hard to help the detainees if they don't tell the truth about their children.

MARC RAIMONDI: We have a strong record of ensuring that whenever there is a detainee who's a sole provider of a child, we are able to released that detainee on a border of supervision.

VAZQUEZ TONESS: Governor Patrick issued his own critique of immigration policy.

DEVAL PATRICK: You know, they came in and swept up all these workers, most of them women. The folks who run that plant, they're back at work today. And I think there's something wrong with that.

VAZQUEZ TONESS: Patrick is right. The owner and managers at Michael Bianco Incorporated are back at work, but they face felony charges of conspiring to induce illegal immigrants to live in the U.S.

The company still has more than $200 million in contracts to make gear for the Defense Department, but it won't get any more military jobs. A week after the raid, the factory is hiring to replace the workers at lost, a steady stream of people file in and out of the factory. Yolanda Rosa(ph) comes out smiling. She got a job.

YOLANDA ROSA: (Speaking in foreign language)

VAZQUEZ TONESS: They're hiring, she says, but they're asking if you're an American citizen. Rosa told them yes. She's Puerto Rican. Department of Defense inspectors have regularly visited the Michael Bianco factory, but they say they were looking at the quality of workmanship not the people doing the work.

None of this surprises Doris Meissner. She headed up Immigration Enforcement under President Clinton. She doesn't fault the Department of Defense for not knowing who was working for a contractor. And as far as traumatizing immigrants and their families, she says the government is just enforcing the laws that are on the books.

DORIS MEISSNER: This is not a nice business and, you know, when women and children are involved, the government has always made an effort to be in touch with Social Services agencies.

VAZQUEZ TONESS: But Meissner says that makes things just a little bit easier for the families.

MEISSNER: The basic responsibility of the government here is to be dealing with the employers of the workers, and they try to do the best that they can.

VAZQUEZ TONESS: After a week, 14-year-old Evelyn is now back with her mom in New Bedford. They may soon be returned to Guatemala. The more than 300 other Central Americans detained at Michael Bianco Incorporated also face deportation. Immigration authorities say they're going to keep doing raids like this. The congressman for Massachusetts has promised to investigate how immigration agents treat women and children.

For NPR News, I'm Bianca Vazquez Toness.

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