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ICE raid on a sweatshop in Massachusetts
Rounded up and "disappeared"

By Keith Rosenthal and Brian Chidester | March 16, 2007 | Page 16

A 7-year-old child calls up a state hotline looking for her mother, and learns she was shipped to a detention center in Texas. Frantic parents search for five children who were arrested and sent to a prison in Miami in the middle of the night. Hundreds more are detained and "disappeared" within 48 hours, to places far from their home.

These are the cruel consequences of a March 6 raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on a sweatshop in New Bedford, Mass. Three hundred and sixty-one workers, mostly Guatemalan women, were captured in the sweep.

The raid occurred at the Michael Bianco Inc., textile plant, which has a $91 million contract with the U.S. Army to produce protective gear for U.S. troops.

Conditions for the mostly immigrant workforce were deplorable. Workers were paid an average of $7 an hour, were docked $15 for every minute they were late to work, and were given $20 fines for spending more than 2 minutes in the bathroom or talking while working.

The March 6 raid was a scene of terror. With 300 federal agents storming into the plant, workers frantically attempted to escape, only to be turned back by the freezing cold outside. Many were trampled, and several had to be hospitalized.

What else to read

For more information on upcoming ICE protests and other immigrant rights organizing in Boston, contact [email protected], or call 617-407-9433. For actions and organizing in Providence, contact [email protected], or call 401-525-1957.


Those who couldn't immediately prove their citizenship were rounded up and shipped to various prisons around New England, and even as far away as New Mexico--leaving scores of children stranded at school or at home.

"They [ICE agents] were insisting sign here, sign here," Norma Urbina, one of the women rounded up, told the Boston Globe. "We didn't even know what we were signing. There were people who signed deportation orders because they couldn't read."

Public shock at the havoc wreaked by the raid was immediate. The Boston Globe described the whole fiasco as a "human crisis" and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick went to New Bedford to extend his sympathies.

To add insult to injury, while three top managers at Michael Bianco were arrested at the time of the raid, they were quickly released--and back running the plant the next day. Meanwhile, hundreds of immigrants who labored under there are not so fortunate--they continue to languish in prison for the "crime" of wanting to make a good life for their families.

The response from immigrant rights organizations and activists has been varied. Some have turned to relief-oriented work in a local church in New Bedford, providing services to family members of the detained. Others, including some of the bigger immigrant rights organizations in Massachusetts, remained focused on lobbying in Washington, D.C., hoping to achieve immigration reform legislation.

Still others are looking to organize mass actions and protests in response to this injustice. In nearby Boston and Providence, activists are planning a series of pickets and protests that will target ICE offices.

"We need to protest, scream, organize," says Guadalupe Hernandez, one of the activists organizing the ICE protest in Boston. "If we just sit and wait to see what happens by lobbying the politicians for immigration reform, there's just going to be more raids. We have to organize--that's the only thing we can do to stop this."

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