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by Mary Holper, Catholic Legal Immigration Network

Bush Political Agenda Behind Immigration Raids

(PNS) -- When federal immigration agents raided a factory in New Bedford, Mass., the workers were producing safety vests and backpacks for the U.S. military. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) moved to detain and deport most of the workers almost immediately. Many of their families were left behind to wait for news about their loved ones and judicial decisions.

In the early March raid, ICE agents arrested 361 people, most of whom were women. ICE released only 25 of the women that day, and approximately 25 the following day. All of the others were taken to Fort Devens, Mass., for temporary detention at a decommissioned military fort. ICE loaded detainees onto buses and flew them across the country. Most of the detainees were transferred to facilities in south Texas, where they were far from their families, communities, and the fleet of pro bono lawyers who were willing to represent the group who came to be known as "the New Bedford detainees."

After the raids, immigration lawyers immediately sought access to the detainees. ICE did not grant full access to them. It denied Ondine Galvez Sniffen of Catholic Social Services when she asked to speak with the workers at the factory on the day of the raid. Greater Boston Legal Services coordinated teams of lawyers, paralegals and students to interview the detainees at Fort Devens. ICE granted access to only those detainees the lawyers could name. In two long nights spent at Fort Devens, the legal teams interviewed a mere fraction of the detainees. ICE transported most of the detainees out of Massachusetts, so the lawyers' efforts to meet with all of the New Bedford detainees prior to transfer failed.

Approximately 200 detainees ended up in south Texas, far from their families and advocates. A group of immigration lawyers filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Massachusetts to prevent this transfer. However, as papers for the lawsuit were being prepared and filed, ICE moved the last of the 200 detainees out of Massachusetts, where the federal district court would lose jurisdiction over them.

Despite ICE's efforts, the federal district court ruled that ICE was temporarily prevented from deporting any New Bedford detainee who had given up her rights to a hearing and agreed to voluntary departure or a stipulated deportation order following the raid. The court ordered that a group of immigration lawyers fly to Texas to interview the detainees to determine if their rights had been violated. However, the goal of the lawsuit, that ICE would be forced to transfer the New Bedford detainees back to Massachusetts, was not realized. To date, none of the Texas detainees have been transferred back to New England. Many of the Texas detainees were denied bond or granted unaffordable bonds.

It took some time and a lot of coordination to arrange legal representation for those kept in Texas. The Political Asylum/Immigration Representation (PAIR) Project and the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) coordinated lawyers to help some of the detainees in Texas.

Approximately 90 detainees remained detained in New England after ICE transferred the rest. The PAIR Project coordinated pro bono representation for the remaining detainees. PAIR Project and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., (CLINIC) trained the lawyers on how to represent detainees in a bond hearing before an immigration judge. Catholic Social Services of Fall River, the PAIR Project, and Greater Boston Legal Services agreed to represent all of the New Bedford detainees who remained in New England.

ICE released some of the detainees who remained in New England on bond. Approximately 50 are still in detention in New England. The detainees are housed in local county jails, where ICE rents space. ICE detainees are often housed with U.S. citizens who are facing trial for criminal charges or serving sentences for criminal convictions.

Meanwhile, New Bedford is left with the families of those who remain in detention. With a breadwinner in detention, many turned to a church in New Bedford for aid and support. Social workers and other community members help them sort out their affairs. Family members can receive, among other things, diapers, food, and, at least, a friendly smile from volunteers at the church. The New Bedford detainees who were released await decisions from immigration judges in Boston. They will decide whether the detainees must be deported from the U.S.

The New Bedford raid had a high human cost, both with the torn families and the suffering of those detained and their children. It also sent undocumented workers a message that they should live in constant fear for seeking subsistence through unauthorized employment. This raid only reflects an immigration system out of step with the social and economic realities of the country we live in.

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Albion Monitor   May 23, 2007   (

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