Senator Kennedy is using the New Bedford raid as a platform for moving immigration reform forward. I have posted below his statement, in which he allegaes that Homeland Security’s ICE unit swiftly transfered hundreds of the arrested workers to holding areas in Texas while not caring for some children left in New Bedford. Meanwhile, the owner of the employer, Michael Bianco, Inc, is free on bail and vacationing in Puerto Rico.
“This is the haphazard way DHS handles the problem of illegal immigration. They have said that they had planned this raid for months, but had made no provision to house the workers they arrested. Instead, the workers were rounded up and immediately transported by DHS to Texas and other states, far from their families, without even an opportunity to say goodbye. The DHS knew that many of these workers had children at home, but they did not do nearly enough to protect them. As a result, children came back to empty homes; at least one nursing baby went to the hospital with dehydration; and hundreds cried themselves to sleep, wondering where their loved ones were and why they had disappeared.”
“Making an example of New Bedford workers doesn’t solve the problem”
By Senator Edward M. Kennedy
As it appears in The New Bedford Standard Times
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
On Sunday afternoon, in the basement of Our Lady of Guadalupe in New Bedford, I saw first-hand the pain and suffering of the families and community ripped apart by the actions of the Department of Homeland Security. In my 45 years of public life, this was one of the most heartbreaking scenes I have ever witnessed. Babies were screaming for their mothers. Wives were desperately searching for information about their husbands. One father tearfully described the agony and sleeplessness of his young children who couldn’t understand why their mother had disappeared. Shock, confusion and despair were the order of the day.
I was reminded of the tragedy and human suffering that we all witnessed after the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina. Such human tragedy is heartbreaking when it is caused by a natural disaster. But when it is the product of a government agency’s failures, it is utterly unconscionable.
These men and women had not harmed anyone. They were victims of exploitation, forced to work under barbaric conditions by an employer who knew that they could not afford to complain. Their children — many of whom are United States citizens — had done nothing wrong at all. None of them had any reason to expect that the Department of Homeland Security would decide to make an example out of them.
This is the haphazard way DHS handles the problem of illegal immigration. They have said that they had planned this raid for months, but had made no provision to house the workers they arrested. Instead, the workers were rounded up and immediately transported by DHS to Texas and other states, far from their families, without even an opportunity to say goodbye. The DHS knew that many of these workers had children at home, but they did not do nearly enough to protect them. As a result, children came back to empty homes; at least one nursing baby went to the hospital with dehydration; and hundreds cried themselves to sleep, wondering where their loved ones were and why they had disappeared.
The treatment of these workers is sharply different from the treatment given so far to the owner of Michael Bianco, Inc. His factory abused undocumented workers for years, and he reaped lucrative government contracts made even more profitable by underpaying and overworking the undocumented. However, he is now free on bail and was free to take a trip to Puerto Rico. There is no clearer proof that our immigration system is badly broken. It is swift to punish a handful of exploited workers, but slow and uncertain in addressing the employers who exploit them. Clearly, the time has come to address these inequities.
We must enforce our nation’s immigration laws. But the raids in New Bedford and elsewhere are merely a stopgap solution that unfairly penalizes vulnerable workers in an already flawed system. There are 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Arresting 300 of them may generate some headlines for DHS, but such raids do not begin to solve the immigration issue.
To make real progress, I have proposed comprehensive immigration reform. That legislation will create a program whereby undocumented workers who are already in the United States can earn legalization by working and paying taxes over many years. It will also hold employers accountable for verifying the immigration status of the workers they hire, and significantly increase penalties against employers who hire and exploit undocumented workers. Such legislation offers a practical alternative to the chaos of the current system.
Today, we must pull together just as we did in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The administration must not flee the scene of this disaster. Instead, DHS must be held accountable for its failure to take adequate steps to protect innocent children from the fallout from this raid. We owe that much to our neighbors in New Bedford — and to workers in communities across the country who have experienced similar raids. I have also asked DHS to meet with me, the rest of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, Governor Deval Patrick and Mayor Scott Lang this week to explore immediately what can be done to reunite families and restore some order to their lives. These workers may lack documents, but they do not lack dignity, and they do not lack friends.