Friday, March 9, 2007

INB 3/9/07: Factory Raids in Massachusetts, Indiana

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 10, No. 6 - March 9, 2007

1. MA: Over 300 Arrested at Factory
2. Factory Raided in Indiana

Immigration News Briefs is a weekly supplement to Weekly News Update on the Americas, published by Nicaragua Solidarity Network, 339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012; tel 212-674-9499; INB is also distributed free via email; contact for info. You may reprint or distribute items from INB, but please credit us and tell people how to subscribe.


Early on Mar. 6, some 300 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and police officers raided the Michael Bianco Inc. leather goods factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts. [Boston Globe 3/6/07 (online edition), 3/7/07] At least 361 workers who could not immediately prove they were authorized to be in the US were initially rounded up in the raid. [Washington Post 3/9/07 from AP] Immigration officials later said 327 of the company's 500 employees were detained for possible deportation. [AP 3/8/07] Most of the undocumented workers were women from Guatemala and El Salvador, officials said. [AP 3/7/07]

Workers present during the raid said the scene was chaotic. People panicked and tried to flee, only to discover that the plant was surrounded by agents, with helicopters hovering above to alert authorities of escape routes. [BG 3/6/07 (online edition), 3/7/07] "When we realized what was going on, a lot of people were screaming and crying," said Tina Pacheco, a supervisor who has worked at the company for 14 years. "They told American citizens to stand in one area and the people without papers to stand in another area. It was terrible, they were crying and didn't know what was going to happen." Witnesses said police guarded exits while other officers grabbed some of the fleeing workers and shouted at them to lie on the ground. Several officers drew their handguns. [BG 3/7/07]

The arrested workers were loaded onto buses and taken for processing to a US Army Reserve center at the former Fort Devens military base in Ayer, nearly 100 miles from New Bedford. [BG 3/7/07; Patriot Ledger (Quincy, MA) 3/7/07] About 90 of them were then flown on Mar. 7 from Fort Devens to a detention center in Harlingen, Texas, according to ICE spokesperson Marc Raimondi. On Mar. 8, a group of 116 others were flown to Albuquerque, New Mexico, said Raimondi. The detainees remaining in Massachusetts have been transferred to local jails, and the Fort Devens facility has now been vacated, Raimondi said.

On Mar. 8, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick. urged federal authorities not to move any more of the detained workers out of state until their children are found and arrangements are made for their care. Federal authorities postponed a third flight that was to depart at noon on Mar. 8 after Patrick twice called Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff seeking better cooperation from ICE officials. "I urged the federal government to stop all flights out of Fort Devens immediately until we can be assured that all parents have been identified and appropriate arrangements made for their children and dependents," Patrick said.

ICE chief Julie Myers said ICE agents asked each of the arrested workers if they were sole caregivers to children, and 60 people who said they were have been released on humanitarian grounds to face hearings later. [WP 3/9/07 from AP] Myers said eight pregnant women were also allowed to leave the factory shortly after their arrests, and were ordered to appear in court later for immigration hearings. [BG 3/7/07]

One woman released on Mar. 6, Viviana Luis Hernandes, said she sat in the factory for nine hours, handcuffed with plastic ties, while her case was evaluated. Her husband was also arrested, so in the end she was released to care for her one-year-old baby. [BG 3/7/07] Massachusetts Department of Social Services spokesperson Denise Monteiro said another woman was detained until the night of Mar. 8, despite having a 7-month-old infant hospitalized for dehydration. During three days and two nights of detention, the woman was unable to nurse her baby. [WP 3/9/07 from AP]

ICE spokesperson Raimondi said those workers still in custody were given the option of letting their children stay with a guardian or putting them in state care. "We had an agreement in place," he said. "We are not aware of anyone who had any children that weren't being cared for." [AP 3/7/07] Raimondi said ICE notified social workers in advance about the raids, coordinating with state officials on the afternoon of Mar. 5. [AP 3/7/07; WP 3/9/07 from AP]

But Corinn Williams, director of the Community Economic Development Center of Southeastern Massachusetts, said about 100 children were stuck with baby sitters, caretakers and others. Williams said her center was hearing stories about infants that were left behind. "It's been a widespread humanitarian crisis here in New Bedford," she said. [AP 3/8/07] JudyAnn Bigby, secretary of Health and Human Services, said the state has identified about 35 children whose parents were arrested and who were now staying with relatives or friends. There are other children who had keys to their homes "and went home with no one there," Bigby said. "We have no idea how many that is." Monteiro said federal immigration officials have allowed state social workers to travel to the out-of-state detention centers "and identify some of the people they took too early before we got to interview them." [WP 3/9/07 from AP]

On Mar. 6, the same day the plant was raided, Michael Bianco Inc. owner Francesco Insolia and three of his managers were charged in US District Court in Boston with conspiring to encourage or induce unauthorized immigrants to live in the US, and conspiring to hire them. The four were released the same day, and are due back in court on Mar. 26. Luis Torres, who worked in a music store across the street from the factory, is being detained on charges of providing fake identification documents to some of the factory workers.

"Insolia and others knowingly and intentionally exploited the government by recruiting and hiring illegal aliens without authorization to work," said US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan, announcing the arrests on Mar. 6. "They exploited the workforce with low-paying jobs and horrible working conditions, exploited the taxpayers by securing lucrative contracts funded by our legal workforce, and exploited the legal workforce by hiring illegal aliens." [BG 3/7/07]

The 11-month investigation that led to the raid began with a tip from a Michael Bianco employee who was angry at the way the company responded to workers' fears when an immigration raid took place nearby in December 2005. According to an affidavit by ICE special agent Melvin H. Graham, the employee said about 75 workers ran and hid after company officials announced over the loudspeaker that the employees were free to leave for the day. [BG 3/7/07; AP 3/7/07; Patriot Ledger 3/7/07] [During the raid on Dec. 5, 2005, ICE agents and US Coast Guard officials arrested 13 workers at several fish processing plants in New Bedford, sparking widespread panic. "The whole city emptied out, all the plants," said Frank Ferreira, a manager at one of the raided plants, AML International. See INB 12/11/05]

In September 2006, an undercover agent posed as a Mexican illegal immigrant and recorded conversations with company officials in which she was open about her purported status. [Patriot Ledger 3/7/07; BG 3/7/07] According to affidavits unsealed on Mar. 6, Insolia and other managers told the agent that many of the company's workers were in the country illegally, and even encouraged her to seek false documentation from Torres, the music store worker. The agent bought a green card and a Social Security card from him for $120, according to the federal documents. Another company official told the agent that she would hire her relatives if they, too, provided false documents.

According to federal officials, two thirds of the workers employed at the company had bogus Social Security numbers, or numbers that did not match their names. The Social Security Administration had been sending notices informing the company of the mismatches since 2001, they said, but Insolia and his managers took no action in response.

The Defense Department participated in the case. [BG 3/7/07] Michael Bianco Inc., founded in 1985, specialized in manufacturing high-end leather goods for retailers including Coach Inc. and Timberland Co. before landing a $9.4 million military contract in 2003 to make survival vests. Between 2004 and 2006, the company won another $82 million in military contracts to make products including lightweight backpacks. The contracts led to a massive expansion of the company's work force, from 85 employees in 2003 to more than 500, according to investigators. [AP 3/7/07; BG 3/6/07 (online edition)]


On Mar. 6, more than 50 ICE agents acting on a criminal search warrant arrested 36 of the 250 workers at Janco Composites, a factory in Mishawaka, Indiana that produces fiberglass-reinforced plastic products. The agents, all from the ICE office in Chicago, also hauled away boxes of files. The 20 women and 16 men arrested were taken in a bus to a center in Broadview, Illinois, where agents interviewed and fingerprinted them. One worker was reported as being from El Salvador; the rest are from Mexico. [Journal Gazette (Fort Wayne) 3/7/07 from AP; South Bend Tribune 3/7/07, 3/8/07]

One Mexican man was released later on Mar. 6 because someone had previously petitioned for legal status for him. [AP 3/8/07] Two women were released on the evening of Mar. 7 "due to childcare issues," said ICE spokesperson Gail Montenegro. The women will need to return to Chicago for removal hearings, she said. The other workers are being held at jails in Kenosha County, Wisconsin and in Illinois. Five people waived their right to a hearing, so they will be transported back to Mexico, Montenegro said. Two women from El Salvador had previous deportation orders and will be detained and removed promptly, according to Montenegro. (Previous reports indicated only one of the arrested workers was Salvadoran.) Among the others, 24 will be released from jail if they post bonds of $3,000 to $6,000. [SBT 3/9/07]

The arrests sent shock waves through the Latino community in northern Indiana. The Rev. Jose Ortiz, interim pastor of La Iglesia Menonita del Buen Pastor in Goshen, described the aftermath of the raid as a "silent captivity." He said people will be staying out of sight due to fear. [AP 3/8/07] On the evening of Mar. 6, a prayer vigil was held for the arrested workers at St. Adalbert church in South Bend. "Basically we are saying these are husbands, wives, children," said Rev. Christopher Cox, pastor of St. Adalbert and St. Casimir churches. [SBT 3/7/07; JG 3/7/07 from AP]

ICE said the raid was part of an ongoing investigation that began late in 2006. The arrests came more than three weeks after Mexican citizen Etzel Ortiz Partida was arrested and accused of using someone else's Social Security number to gain and keep a job at Janco, where she was hired in 2001. Ortiz also reportedly used the false identification to obtain an Indiana driver's license. She remains in St. Joseph County Jail. [JG 3/7/07 from AP; SBT 3/7/07] At a hearing on Mar. 1, federal Magistrate Judge Christopher A. Neuchterlein ruled that Ortiz could be detained for an additional 10 days so immigration officials could process her. After that period, she could be released on a $5,000 bond. Neuchterlein set a trial date of May 14, but Ortiz Partida's attorney, George Caturla, said, "I'm working with the US attorney to resolve this case, hopefully to avoid going to trial." [SBT 3/7/07]

The Mishawaka raid was the latest in a series of recent ICE raids in the greater Chicago area. On Feb. 27, ICE agents arrested nine men and eight women employed at Cano Packaging Corp. in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, Illinois. The company provides packaging services for the confections and food industry. Special agents began investigating the company in October 2006 after receiving information that many out-of-status immigrant workers were employed there, said Montenegro, the ICE spokesperson. Company officials have not been charged, she said. [Chicago Tribune 3/1/07]

In Chicago, ICE agents arrested 11 Polish nationals who worked for a cleaning service on Jan. 24 and ten employees of a popular restaurant in Greektown on Jan. 9 [see INB 1/12/07, 2/10/07].

On the evening of Mar. 7, Chicago immigrant rights activists protested the recent raids with a rally outside the center in Broadview, where ICE processes detainees from Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Wisconsin. [AP 3/8/07]


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