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Immigrants fight back after New Bedford, Mass., roundups

Published Mar 13, 2007 11:47 PM

Hundreds of heavily armored federal, state and local police raided the Michael Bianco factory in New Bedford, Mass., on March 6 and arrested 361 mostly Guatemalan and El Salvadoran women. The workers’ crime: having immigrated to the United States to try to support their families.

Children and adults picking up supplies
on March 11.
WW photos: Liz Green

The workers were targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after a 10-month investigation. (Boston Globe, March 7)

In a horrific scene that played out on the sweatshop floor, women without immigration papers were forcibly separated to one side of the room and quickly hauled off to Fort Devens, 40 miles away. From there hundreds were flown to detention centers in Texas and Florida. Children and families were left with the nightmare of not knowing where their loved ones are, or how they are.

At least 140 of the workers’ children were left without one or more parents, according to a Massachusetts Department of Social Service regional director at a hastily called emergency meeting at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center on March 8. An 18-month-old baby was brought to a local New Bedford Emergency Room with pneumonia.

A delegation from
Women’s Fightback Network
and International Action
Center bring supplies for
immigrant families.

The entire Massachusetts political establishment—from New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang to Gov. Deval Patrick, U.S. Reps. William Delahunt and Barney Frank, and U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Ted Kennedy—has expressed great “dismay” at the raid and had their photographs taken with local immigrant families. They have publicly promised investigations. The factory’s production of army backpacks, contracted for $83 million by the Pentagon, was produced by the low-paid labor of the women who have been imprisoned.  There is only speculation on whether production will go ahead.

A local New Bedford official told one activist that there are many other factories in New Bedford exploiting immigrant workers the same way as the Bianco factory.

Despite the horror of the raid and the fear of further detentions by those without papers, hundreds of affected family members crowded the basement of St. Anthony of Guadalupe church in New Bedford. There they organized their own support and resistance, including everything from food to legal assistance.

Picket lines at federal buildings housing ICE offices have been called for the week of March 13-17 by the Boston Mayday Coalition as well as groups in Providence, R.I. (See www.iacboston.org for more info.)

On March 11, a delegation from Boston’s Women’s Fightback Network and the Troops Out Now Coalition delivered a shipment of material aid—baby formula, baby food and diapers—to local organizers and community in New Bedford. A leader from the National May 1st Organizing Committee, Bishop Felipe Teixeira, joined the group to distribute desperately needed supplies.

Teixeira told Workers World: “Yesterday when I came to New Bedford I thought that this must have been what it was like in Nazi Germany when they came for the Jews. These people came here fleeing their countries which have been exploited by U.S. imperialist policies. They came here looking for a better life and they have been terrorized.”

On March 12, leaders of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, Massachusetts Chapter, is holding a news conference at Boston City Hall to demand “of the president and the Congress an immediate moratorium on raids, detentions and deportations until a comprehensive immigration reform is approved by Congress,” in the light of the New Bedford raids.

“NALACC is a national alliance comprised of 80 organizations led by immigrants from Latin American and the Caribbean who work in the United Status to improve the quality of life of their communities.” the group explained.

On March 13, a group of Mayan workers and representatives from the organization Maya K’iche will speak in Boston at Trinity Church from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. about the impact of the raid on their community in New Bedford, to gain support and to join with the overall movement for immigrant and worker rights.

Dozens of immigrant- and worker-rights activists will speak at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., at 1 p.m. on March 15 to announce upcoming plans for the “Great American Boycott II” to take place this coming May 1—International Workers Day.

Go to www.iacboston.org to read a statement in support of these immigrant workers.