10 Years After The New Bedford ICE Raid, Immigrant Community Has Hope A decade ago, federal agents detained hundreds of workers in the massive immigration raid in New Bedford, Mass. But some say the raid brought the people of the community together.
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10 Years After The New Bedford ICE Raid, Immigrant Community Has Hope

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10 Years After The New Bedford ICE Raid, Immigrant Community Has Hope

10 Years After The New Bedford ICE Raid, Immigrant Community Has Hope

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Ten years ago today, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided a textile plant in New Bedford, Mass. They detained hundreds of workers. The governor at the time, Deval Patrick, said the raid led to a humanitarian crisis for families.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY CRYING)

GLORIBELL MOTA: (Inaudible).

SHAPIRO: A video posted on YouTube after the raid shows a sick baby in the arms of Gloribell Mota, one of the volunteers who came to New Bedford to help.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOTA: The mom is detained. He was taken. The baby hasn't drank. He's dehydrated, has a fever, cried all night. And now we're going the emergency room to see what can be done.

SHAPIRO: The raid stemmed from an investigation into a defense department contractor that had hired people without work permits. From member station WBUR, Simon Rios reports the raid disrupted many lives and galvanized a community.

SIMON RIOS, BYLINE: Under the cover of darkness, a freezing March morning, 300 ICE agents headed out for New Bedford. They would raid a factory and arrest 361 immigrants in the country illegally as well as the people who hired them.

BRUCE FOUCART: You talk about humanitarian. We covered every base.

RIOS: Bruce Foucart was special agent in charge of homeland security investigations in New England, the top ICE official overseeing the raid. Families were broken up, but Foucart says ICE did what it could to prevent the kids of factory workers from being left alone.

FOUCART: We worked with DSS. We worked with public safety. We worked with the New Bedford Police Department. We worked with the New Bedford school department. Our concern was we did not want to have children coming home to empty houses.

RIOS: With tens of millions of dollars of Defense Department contracts, Michael Bianco, Incorporated, made gear for American soldiers, like knapsacks and vests. Foucart says the raid was a matter of critical infrastructure, and the order to arrest everyone who did not have papers came from the highest levels of government.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

RIOS: Ten years after the Bianco raid, several workers discussed their grievances with one of New Bedford's two dozen fish factories. It's a weeknight, and they're meeting at the Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores, or Community Workers Center, a group founded in the aftermath of the raid.

ADRIAN VENTURA: (Through interpreter) The Community Workers Center is like a fruit of the attack against us. With every attack, something new is created.

RIOS: Adrian Ventura heads the center that caters to workers from Central America. He says something fundamental changed with the raid.

VENTURA: (Through interpreter) What has changed since the Bianco raid is that many of the workers now know their rights. Many now fight for their benefits.

RIOS: Some refer to the Bianco raid as a communitywide trauma with effects still felt today, but it also brought people together. Ondine Sniffen was the first immigration attorney on scene after the raid. She says more people are willing to stand up for immigrants today.

ONDINE SNIFFIN: I think that gives the immigrant community some hope that before another raid like Michael Bianco happens, more people are aware, and there will be a greater outcry.

RIOS: Sniffen says her practice in New Bedford is getting flooded with calls from people afraid of what's coming from the Trump administration. One person desperate to know is Maria del Carmen Villeda. Of the 361 Bianco workers who were arrested, Villeda was one of about 150 who attorneys estimate were deported.

MARIA DEL CARMEN VILLEDA: (Through interpreter) This is why I went to the embassy to get a visa, but I was denied.

RIOS: After several family members were killed, Villeda snuck back into the U.S. and turned herself in to authorities to apply for asylum. She's back in New Bedford with a government tracking monitor around her ankle she's been wearing for a year and a half. Now Villeda has little recourse but to pray Donald Trump will embrace policies to help her people.

VILLEDA: (Through interpreter) We'll see what happens with this new president. I hope God touches his heart.

RIOS: For NPR News, I'm Simon Rios in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF BALMORHEA SONG, "BALMORRAN")

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