"Stop the Raids": A Convergence of Truths in New Bedford

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(Picture from the White House website)

(Picture from the Washington Post)

Every time I think of the infamous raid in New Bedford, Massachusetts, I can't help but think of these two photos and the impact they had on me when I first laid them side-by-side.
These pictures, taken around the same time, express more truths than I ever could in words. Above is a picture of a Guatemalan girl used by the U.S. government. Below is a picture of a Guatemalan girl who was the victim of the U.S. government. Above is a nameless other taking part in a staged event. Below is Tomasa Mendez in the middle of a very real crisis. I could go on but I'll leave people to draw their own conclusions.

Just in case people have forgotten about the New Beford raids these Youtube Videos sum it up well and I'll put one below:

The reason I bring it up is because National Public Radio recently did a segment on the aftermath of the New Bedford raid. I thought it would be a good time to revisit and summarize the many ironies of the raid. Sometimes, I think only the divine could have conveyed so much truth in only one incident.

"The federal government was storming the factory with one hand while writing checks to it with the other"

I've taken the above quote from one of the best articles on the New Bedford raid, written by Aimee Molloy at Salon. It does a good job of tying everything together months after the chaos. I highlight it because it conveys what still astonishes me today about the New Bedford raids: The federal government paid migrants to manufacture gear for U.S. soldiers at the same time that it plotted to deport them. In fact, it was the lucrative government contracts that resulted in the swelling of migrant workers at Michael Bianco Inc. According to Molloy:

Beginning in 2002 ... MBI was contracted to manufacture body armor and tactical gear for the U.S. military, totaling, through 2006, more than $92 million. To fill the contracts, the company's workforce grew to six times what was in 2001: from 85 people to more than 500 in 2007. To train and hire additional employees, the company owner won approval for 111,150 in state grants.
In theory, the government had information suggesting there were migrants employed illegally in the factory since 2002, but the Social Security Administration (SSA) is not allowed to share this information with other federal agencies due to privacy laws. What is shocking is the complicity of Pentagon officials in the years before the factory was raided.

"A Pentagon official visited the factory as often as four times a week and even had an office on-site"

While the SSA is not allowed to share information with other federal agencies, it is unbelievable to me that Pentagon officials were a regular presence at the Michael Bianco factory at the same time that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) plotted to raid it.

The ICE began looking into the MBI began in May of 2006 (the factory was raided in March of 2007). In August of 2006, one month after the official ICE investigation began, the Army awarded MBI another contract, this time for an unprecedented $138 million. Even though the SSA had information about MBI problems, the Pentagon was constantly monitoring the factory, and ICE had began an official investigation, the U.S. Army was still pumping enormous amounts of money into this machine of migrant exploitation.

At this point, in August of 2006, there was no excuse for the government to be supporting MBI at the same time that it set migrants up for what Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick would refer to as a "humanitarian crisis".

"We'd see him all the time," said Juan Tum, a Guatemalan who, along with his wife and brother, was arrested and detained during the raid. "He'd come and tell us we shouldn't complain about the work because it was better than being in Iraq."

Above, a worker described the Pentagon official's reaction to the working conditions at MBI in another precious gem from the Molloy's Salon article. If illegal employment wasn't enough to set off the government to the problems with awarding MBI contracts, the working conditions should have been.

In the Department of Justice press release (pdf) describing the charges against MBI owner Francesco Insolia, the "severe working conditions" are described:

It is alleged that INSOLIA continues to maintain a workforce of which the majority are illegal aliens. It is further alleged that he intentionally seeks out illegal aliens because they are more desperate to find employment, and are thus more likely to endure severe workplace conditions he has imposed. It is alleged that these conditions include:
  • docking of pay by 15 minutes for every minute an employee is late;
  • fining employees $20 for spending more than 2 minutes in the restroom and firing for a subsequent infraction;
  • providing one roll of toilet paper per restroom stall per day, typically resulting in the absence of toilet paper after only 40 minutes each day;
  • fining employees $20 for leaving work area before break bell sounds;
  • and fining employees $20 for talking while working and firing for a subsequent infraction.

The Molloy lays out pretty clearly that Pentagon officials knew about these conditions long before the raid. But, at least it was better than Iraq, right?

"Humanitarian Crisis"

On March 6, 2007, an operation that took 11 months of planning, involved hundreds of agents, and eventually ended up transporting migrants hundreds of miles by bus and thousands of miles in government aircraft, ended up being a disaster.  ICE won't reveal how much the operation cost, just as they keep so much additional information from the public (any agency in the U.S. as secretive as ICE should raise significant questions).  Still, if U.S. taxpayers knew how much was spent on an bungled raids like these, you can bet anti-migrant advocates wouldn't have much justification for the policies they advocate.

The Salon article describes the debacle:

Despite the significant resources committed to these efforts, people question whether ICE is capable of handling mass arrests and deportations in a safe and humanitarian manner. Tum and others interviewed by Salon describe the scene at MBI that day as one of horror and confusion. "When the agents entered, people started screaming, and I thought there was a fire," he said recently. "The secretary announced over the P.A. system that nobody was to move ... but I saw people running toward the back exit, and it was like a stampede. Some fell and people got hurt." Those unable to prove legal status were shackled and kept inside the factory for nine hours, during which time they were given no food and, because the factory was considered a crime scene, no way to contact their family.

Amid the commotion, some of the workers were unable -- or perhaps unwilling -- to let ICE agents know that they had children at home, and local activists and attorneys report that nearly 100 children were left stranded with baby sitters or in schools and daycare centers after one or both of their parents were detained. Community groups and relatives scrambled to locate children, and a local church put out a call for donations of diapers and food. That evening, a breast-feeding infant whose mother had been detained ended up in the E.R. with pneumonia and possible dehydration.

Harry Spence, the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Social Services at the time, testified at a state hearing that those problems could have been avoided if federal authorities had better coordinated the raid with state officials. His agency did not learn about the location of the raid until the morning it occurred, and state child welfare workers were initially denied immediate access to Fort Devens. When they were allowed into the military facility the following evening with a list of people they had identified as having childcare issues, they discovered that more than half of the detainees had already been flown to Texas. "Children were placed in significant jeopardy as a result of the decision not to allow us access," Spence testified. "All we were asking was that the law be enforced in a way that ensured the safety of the children."

The workers and their attorneys say that in Texas many people were denied due process -- to which even illegal immigrants have the right under the U.S. Constitution. Lawyers who flew to Texas to interview detainees found that 54 people who had signed a waiver saying they would not appeal their deportation did not understand what they had signed. Some believed it was a request to speak to an attorney. One man who had won an order from a federal court temporarily blocking his deportation was deported anyway. An ICE official later said it was a case of mistaken identify (sic).

Afterwards, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick described the situation in New Bedford as a "humanitarian crisis" and U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy compared the devastation to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"I believe that [ICE] conducts these raids in a way that people are purposefully unable to exercise their rights," says Laura Rotolo, an attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts who interviewed some detainees at Fort Devens. "They transfer people across the country before they can speak to anybody, and then when they are given a bond hearing in Texas, asking to be released before trial, they must prove they are not a flight risk and that they have ties to the community. Of course they have no ties to the community in Texas."

Molloy describes the raid better than I ever could.

"The owner...never spent a night in jail"

Despite all of the suffering the migrants had to go through and are still going through, the owner of MBI, Francesco Insolia, has never had to spend a night in jail. While 200 workers were in detention, Insolia made money off of lucrative government contracts. He even asked permission to travel to Puerto Rico and Panama. His only penalty was $45,000 in fines.

The Pentagon was never held accountable for granting MBI the money and it continued to work on a $64 million job to stitch military backpacks. ICE was never held accountable for bungling the operation. Despite complicity and mistakes all around, it was only the migrants that suffered, the eternal scapegoats for the "American Nightmare".

I apologize for the length of this post. Molloy's Salon article has been the inspiration for much of the post up until this point. I've quoted so extensively from it because it's the most significant piece on the New Bedford raids and I don't think it's well-researched conclusions have gotten enough attention.

This is also the first time that I've attempted to write an all-encompassing post on New Bedford and as long as it is already, I could write a book about this. I will now focus on the aftermath of New Bedford.

"ICE says its a law enforcement agency, not a social service agency"

Back in July, the Department of Homeland Security defended it's actions during the raid:

"I strongly reject the argument that we did not make extraordinary efforts on the humanitarian side," says ICE spokesman Marc Raimondi, who declined to provide other ICE officials for interviews. "We take great care in conducting enforcement operations with dignity and respect for those detained."

But ICE spokesman Marc Raimondi changed his tune in his most recent interview Claudio Sanchez on National Public Radio.

Claudio Sanchez: It's clear ... that the dramatic increase in immigration raids across the country -- in Iowa, Georgia, Minnesota, Massachusetts -- have created a humanitarian quandary for federal, state, and local governments. Separating children from their parents, even if they are in the U.S. illegally, is a nasty business that states are expected to handle. ICE says its a law enforcement agency, not a social service agency. In Massachusetts, state officials say they're still not confident that the next time federal agents raid a factory they'll get the information or lead time that they need to coordinate child protective services. (emphasis mine)

Instead of arguing that ICE did a good job with humanitarian efforts Raimondi is now arguing that humanitarian considerations are not part of ICE's mandate.

NPR is reporting that several hundred children, many of which are U.S. citizens, have stopped going to school because of the fear migrant communities in New Bedford are subject to, now.

"Stop the Raids"

Still, the raids continue. Even as ICE works behind a wall of secrecy it's clear that the mishandling of the New Bedford raid reflected a larger systemic problem with ICE's operations. Just yesterday the New York Times published an editorial entitled "Stop the Raids" after ICE grossly mismanaged another operation in Long Island, New York.

New Bedford reflected more truths than I can ever hope to convey in one blog post. Chief among those truths is that we are all complicit in the illegality which migrants are being punished for. Whether it's the cents shaved off of our produce, the backpacks U.S. troops wear, the millions in government money that supported this operation at the same time that they destroyed it, the Pentagon's complicity in worker exploitation, ICE's botched operation, or the policies that have forced migrants into the U.S. in the first place. Ultimately, U.S. citizens are responsible for all of these injustices.

Migrants, however, are the ones paying for it.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on October 5, 2007 3:36 PM.

The Story of Pedro Zapeta: How the U.S. Government Stole a Happy Home from Guatemala was the previous entry in this blog.

My First Post to Citizen Orange: Thank You Nezua is the next entry in this blog.

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