The New Bedford Raid and Its Aftermath

Back in March, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials pulled off the biggest raid New England has ever seen, bursting into a leather factory in New Bedford to arrest 360 illegal aliens who had been working for Michael Bianco, Inc, a company with contracts to “produce safety vests and backpacks for the US military”. The owner, one Francesco Insolia, was charged with “conspiring to encourage or induce illegal immigrants to live in the United States, and conspiring to hire illegal immigrants.” Why would they risk jail to hire illegals? Because those illegals were desperate enough to work in the intolerable conditions which were all Insolia was willing to furnish.

According to affidavits unsealed yesterday, Insolia hired illegal immigrants instead of legal workers because the immigrants were desperate for jobs and more willing to put up with working conditions in his factory. Federal investigators allege workers were denied overtime, docked 15 minutes for every minute they were late, and fined for talking on the job, or for spending more than two minutes in the plant’s squalid bathrooms.

“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 yesterday. “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.”

A month later the Boston Globe reported that Insolia had actually had the gall to apply for – and receive – grant money from the state of Massachusetts to “train” the workers he was already abusing.

The New Bedford manufacturer raided by federal agents last month for allegedly employing illegal immigrants won approval for $111,150 in state grants over the last four years to hire and train employees, as part of the company’s expansion.

The Massachusetts Department of Workforce Development approved two grants for Michael Bianco Inc. after the owner of the company, Francesco Insolia, appealed for help in winning new contracts from the US Department of Defense and building its share of the commercial textile market.

In early 2003, Michael Bianco, which then employed 87 people, was awarded a $66,250 grant to hire and train 80 new stitchers and machine operators, and to develop an in-house training program for entry-level workers. The state approved another $44,900 for the company this January, but the March 6 immigration raid put that grant on hold.

I probably don’t need to tell you that there is no evidence whatever that the “training sessions” actually took place. Insolia simply pocketed the money. Or perhaps he used it to pay Luis Torres for the fake ID’s Torres got for Insolia’s workers. But here’s the neat part: city officials, Republican and pro-business all, actually visited the factory and, rather than being appalled by the conditions, offered to help Insolia with the grant money and tax breaks.

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HS and Refugees: Housing Resembles Jail

In response to the criticism of international human rights groups about the inhumane conditions in which refugees are kept, Homeland Security and ICE have made a weak attempt to change their policies.

The day Mustafa Elmi turned 3 years old he had to report to his cell three times for headcount. To be able to get one hour of recreation inside a concrete compound sealed off by metal gates and razor wire he had to pin his picture ID to his uniform.

Such routines characterized Mustafa’s life, as well as that of his mother, Bahjo Hosen, 26, during their first seven months in the United States, the country to which they fled to escape political persecution in their native Somalia. They ended up in the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility, one of the nation’s newest detention centers for illegal immigrants that the Department of Homeland Security touts as an “effective and humane alternative” to keep immigrant families together while they await the outcome of immigration court hearings or deportation.

Before the facility opened, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) routinely separated parents from their children upon apprehension by the Border Patrol. Infants and toddlers were placed in federally funded foster homes; adolescents and teenagers were placed in facilities for minors run by the Department of Health and Human Services; and parents were placed in adult detention centers.

An improvement, right? Well, maybe. Continue reading

Homeland Security Treats Refugees Like Criminals

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
I will clap them in irons, throw away the key,
Send them back where they came from and shut the door
Behind them.

No, that last bit isn’t in the famous poem by Emma Lazarus that graces the Statue of Liberty but it describes the way the Bush Administration and Michael Chertoff’s Homeland Security Dept have been handling “asylum seekers” – people who come here to escape persecution and possible murder for their political views or religion in their home countries, according to a report released yesterday by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. Continue reading