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Immigration Raid in Massachusetts Drives Terrified Workers into the Ocean

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Over the last few years, the Michael Bianco factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts has been producing bullet-proof vests, backpacks, and other textiles for the U.S. military. For Michael Bianco, Inc. (and many other more powerful companies in the U.S.), the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have meant big profits. And like any number of U.S. employers, this company has been cashing in by employing low-wage, undocumented workers.

This was the story until the morning of March 6, when over 300 armed agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) branch of the Department of Homeland Security, and supporting agencies, stormed the factory in a military-style raid and roundup. The federal agents surrounded the factory, checked all the workers’ documents, and arrested around two-thirds of the roughly 500 workers. Most of the factory’s workers are women from Central America.

Some of them were so afraid of being arrested, separated from their families, and deported that they fled the factory and jumped into the icy cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. A coast guard helicopter was hovering overhead to ensure none of the workers escaped that way.

Even local politicians and the corporate media reacted to the ugliness of the military-style raid. On the morning after the raids, a columnist for the New Bedford Standard Times wrote, “With the blaring lights, speeding state police cars, and INS command centers, it looked more like some roundup out of 1970s Argentina than a freezing winter day in an old factory town in the United States of America.”

The mayor of New Bedford, who like most other politicians in the U.S. has spoken out against “illegals,” still thought this recent raid had gone too far. He said “terrifying women as they sit at a sewing machine, making them wonder when they will ever again see the preschool children they have left hours earlier, is not acceptable.” On March 7, the Boston Globe reported that an estimated “100 children were left with babysitters or caretakers” after their mothers had been rounded up.

Federal officials have arrested some of the bosses and managers of Michael Bianco, Inc. and are planning to charge them with breaking immigration laws by knowingly hiring undocumented workers and helping them acquire fake papers. Federal officials have accused the company of exploiting undocumented workers and running a “sweatshop.” Of course, the feds are right about this. However, the Federal authorities are not defending workers, undocumented or otherwise, by storming the sweatshop and carting most of the workers off to jail.

Working people all over the country are threatened with budget cuts, while untold millions are poured into “homeland security,” “defense,” and “immigration law enforcement.” The entire ICE agency is a product of the obscene buildup in law enforcement funding that has come with Bush’s “war on terror.”

The ICE agency website states that its goal is to “more effectively enforce our immigration and customs laws and to protect the United States against terrorist attacks. ICE does this by targeting illegal immigrants: the people, money, and materials that support terrorism and other criminal activities.” ICE wants to associate undocumented workers with terrorism. Not because there is any truth to this association, but because it allows the government to do whatever it wants and justify any measures, however inhumane and crazy.

In the struggle to win legal status for all working people in the U.S., we need to mobilize against these raids whenever and wherever they happen.

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