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New Bedford Standard Times' South Coast Today - Your View: Immigration Enforcers Fail to Police Themselves

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New Bedford Standard Times' South Coast Today - Your View: Immigration Enforcers Fail to Police Themselves

By SEN. JOHN KERRY
Sen. Kerry, a Democrat, represents Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate.

One year ago today, New Bedford endured an ordeal the city will never forget — an immigration raid at the Michael Bianco factory which separated mothers from their babies, stranded the elderly and infirm overnight in awful conditions while the law-breaker who hired them spent the night in his bed, and sent detainees halfway across the country and denied them access to their families and to their lawyers.

It was a nightmare — unfair, inhumane, the worst of our broken immigration system. Immediately, thousands warned that no other community should be put through a similar experience.

So one year later, was it a wake-up call? Has the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement — the agency that conducted the Bianco raid — learned from their mistakes?

Unfortunately, not nearly enough:

Just last month, ICE raided a printer supply company in Van Nuys, California and allegedly repeated many of the same mistakes: denying detainees access to families and attorneys, as well as mass handcuffing of people who posed no threat. Most shockingly, given the lessons of New Bedford, workers who attempted to call family members and arrange for child care claim that agents prevented them from doing so.

This is just plain wrong — and that's why, after the Bianco raid, I proposed the Families First Immigration Enforcement Act, a bill to force ICE to treat future detainees more humanely than they treated the immigrant families of New Bedford.

My bill requires ICE to take several common-sense measures to help them enforce the law without inflicting undue suffering. For example, it requires ICE to give state agencies advance notice to enable them to provide someone at the raid site who speaks the same language as the detainees. I carved out special exceptions for the sick, the elderly, pregnant or nursing women, for parents who are the sole caretakers of children or elderly relatives, and for other groups especially vulnerable to the consequences of a raid.

Then, last November, in the face of a storm of criticism, ICE itself adopted many of these same rules. But the Van Nuys raid — which violated ICE's own guidelines — shows that ICE has been much more aggressive about policing others than policing itself.

If ICE won't live by its own guidelines, we need to put the force of law behind them. That is why I am working to make the Families First Act the law of the land.

This community knows how important it is that we get this right. When I met with families affected by the raid at Saint James Church last year, their remarkable resolve was clear — and so was the outpouring of kindness from the surrounding community. Even as the raid showed us government at its worst, the aftermath showed New Bedford at its best.

Still, a raid like this leaves an indelible mark on a community. Shortly after last year's raid, researchers from the Urban Institute and the National Council of La Raza explored the impact of ICE's workplace immigration raids on children interviewed employers, community and religious leaders, social workers and teachers, as well as parents detained as a result of recent ICE raids in Massachusetts, Colorado and Nebraska. They found that in the aftermath of ICE raids, children developed significant psychological problems and faced immediate, life-altering economic hardships.

In all three communities, researchers found evidence of preschool-age children suffering from severe anxiety disorders and, in some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their parents' detention. Other children developed serious eating and sleeping problems and were unable to maintain focus at school.

One 7-month-old New Bedford boy almost died as a result of ICE's disregard for the children of detainees. Accustomed to nursing from his mother, who was being detained by ICE, the infant repeatedly refused the bottle of cow's milk offered by a babysitter. Later that night, listless and unresponsive, the infant was rushed to the hospital and treated for dehydration.

No child should be a victim of America's broken immigration system; no innocent child should pay the price of the failure of mere politicians and bureaucrats to get it right — and no city should endure what New Bedford went through one year ago today.

It's time to guarantee a policy that honors basic human decency — it's time to pass the Families First Immigration Enforcement Act.


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