Senator John Kerry today sent a letter to the Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, demanding answers regarding the immigration raid in New Bedford that left more than 150 children stranded without their parents. He requested that a thorough investigation be launched into how the raid was prepared and executed.
In addition, Kerry also raises concerns about how the target of an ICE criminal investigation could also be the recipient of lucrative DOD contracts.
The text of the letter is as follows:
March 10, 2007
The Honorable Michael Chertoff
Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
I write today in regard to the immigration situation in New Bedford, Massachusetts. As you are well aware, on Tuesday, March 6, 2007, approximately 500 undocumented workers at Michael Bianco Inc., a New Bedford leathermaker, were detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Soon after their initial detention, 150 of those undocumented workers were sent to San Antonio, Texas to be held. The rest were detained at Fort Devens in Massachusetts. More than 150 children were left stranded as a result of these detentions, creating what many have identified as a humanitarian crisis.
During our phone conversation Thursday evening, you assured me that the situation in New Bedford was under control. When we discussed returning the detainees in Texas back to Massachusetts to ensure that all children could be easily reunited with their parents, you underscored your confidence that there were no parents actually being detained in Texas. Yet, the following day, the Associated Press reported that a mother was located in the Texas detention center after her 7-year-old called the hotline set up by the Massachusetts Department of Social Services (DSS). It is shocking to me that the reunification of families is left to the ingenuity of a 7-year-old. In fact, it leads me to believe that things on the ground in New Bedford are not as "under control" as you earlier claimed. As a result, I respectfully request that you provide me with the following information so that we can better understand how this disaster occurred and what steps ICE is taking to rectify it.
How many children currently have at least one parent in a detention center as a result of this raid? How many children have two parents in a detention center as a result of this raid? How many detainees were initially released because they informed DSS or ICE that they were a single parent or sole care giver? How many additional detainees have been released since that time? How did DSS or ICE learn that those individuals needed to be released for humanitarian purposes? When did detainees first have access to DSS representatives? Did the detainees who were sent to Texas have access to DSS representatives before they left Massachusetts? Did the detainees have access immediately upon being removed from the premises and taken into custody? If not, why not? What preparation was done by ICE to ensure that children were not left stranded as a result of a raid where the targeted undocumented workers were two-thirds women? What is ICE's policy with respect to removing undocumented aliens from a state for detention purposes? How does ICE decide where to send the aliens? Is any thought given to potential family disruptions when that decision is made? Was there any effort to detain the 150 removed immigrants closer to Massachusetts? What is ICE currently doing to insure that no more children will be left stranded as a result of this raid? What is ICE's policy with respect to humanitarian releases? Why is it limited to a sole caregiver or single parent? Why does ICE not make provisions for families with children to stay in tact until the conclusion of a deportation hearing?
Although I look forward to hearing your answers on these questions, I am very concerned that there was a systematic failure in preparing for and executing the New Bedford immigration raid. It is for that reason I am copying DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner on this letter and asking for a thorough investigation into how the raid was prepared and how it was executed.
In addition to my concerns about the innocent children swept up in the aftermath of this raid, I also have significant questions about how a target of an ICE criminal investigation could also be the recipient of lucrative DOD contracts. It is my understanding that ICE opened its investigation into Michael Bianco Inc. in May, 2006, and that shortly thereafter it was determined that Michael Bianco Inc. was an "egregious employer" meaning that the company met one of the following criteria: (1) exploitation of undocumented workers; (2) knowingly hiring unauthorized workers as a business practice; or (3) having a significant unauthorized work force. Given that prosecuting egregious employers is a top priority of ICE, the investigation moved forward swiftly. I simply cannot understand, however, how the target of a criminal investigation could retain coveted contracts with the Department of Defense. I therefore would like answers to the following questions:
When ICE initiated its investigation, did Michael Bianco Inc. have a DOD contract? If not, when did it get the contract? If it had a DOD contract, did ICE inform DOD of the criminal investigation? If not, why not? If it did not have a DOD contract, did ICE inform DOD of the criminal investigation when it learned there was the potential for a future contract? What about after it was awarded? What is ICE's policy with respect to notifying other federal agencies about ongoing investigations? Does ICE take into consideration the type of work that a company is doing for the DOD, or any other federal agency, when it determines who to investigate and how far to carry that investigation?
I thank you in advance for your prompt response to my questions. I believe the situation in New Bedford has become a classic example of what not to do in an immigration raid and I hope that we can have your agency's full cooperation in rectifying this crisis.