Agency wants more immigrants released
BOSTON – The head of Massachusetts’ social services on Monday called for the release of about 20 factory workers arrested in an immigration raid, saying many have children with no one else to care for them.They were among the 361 people taken into custody following the raid March 6 at a Michael Bianco Inc. factory that makes equipment and apparel for the U.S. military.Many of the suspected illegal immigrants were shipped to detention centers in Texas before a federal judge ordered the rest to remain in Massachusetts because advocates said the raid created a “humanitarian crisis.”Commissioner Harry Spence was among three-dozen state Department of Social Services workers who traveled to Texas during the weekend to interview more than 200 detainees.The department workers returned to Massachusetts on Monday after recommending the return of 21 detainees the day before, Spence said. Immigration officials in Texas were releasing nine of those 21, Russ Knocke, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C., said Monday.Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., sent a letter Monday to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking that all detainees be returned to Massachusetts for supervised release.Kennedy also asked Chertoff to meet with him and other members of the state’s congressional delegation this week.In response to Kennedy’s request, Knocke said the department has to enforce the law and added that at least 20 percent of the immigrants snared in the raid had already received deportation orders.”We have to enforce the law and we will continue to do so in an aggressive and sensible way,” Knocke said. “Not enforcing the law is not an option.”Spence said the detainees he wants released have children ages 2 to 16, and a few of the children had medical conditions that required special care, including one child that required a feeding tube. All were believed to be born in the United States and therefore are U.S. citizens.Knocke, however, said that only two of the immigrants Spence has requested returned are primary caregivers.Along with the mothers being held, Spence said the group of 20 included a woman suffering from cancer and a 17-year-old boy. Knocke said the teenager is 18.U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Marc Raimondi said the agency was reviewing the requests.He said federal authorities previously had released at least 60 suspected illegal immigrants, mostly because they needed to care for their children.”My information is there’s still not a child left in a risky or inappropriate situation,” Raimondi said.In the days following the raid in New Bedford, a 7-month-old child was hospitalized for dehydration because the breast-feeding infant refused to drink formula and the mother was in custody for two nights. Another mother was located in Texas after her 7-year-old child called a hot line state officials created to reunite families.But Spence said worries that some children may still fall through the cracks have diminished.”I think that worry is very, very significantly narrowed,” he said.U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns set a Tuesday deadline for DSS and immigration authorities to report the status of any unresolved cases involving children. Stearns also said he would consider whether he has jurisdiction over the detainees being held outside Massachusetts.