Massachusetts social workers interview detainees in Texas
HARLINGEN, Texas --Two groups of Massachusetts social workers flew to detention centers in Texas on Saturday to interview factory workers who may have been separated from their families during a federal immigration raid last week.
The federal government's roundup of 361 workers at Michael Bianco Inc., a factory in New Bedford, Mass., drew criticism because children were left behind at schools and day-care centers after parents were detained.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick called it a "humanitarian crisis."
The goal of Saturday's visits in Texas was to interview detainees to see if a case could be made to have them returned to their families, said Denise Monteiro of the Massachusetts Department of Social Services.
Monteiro said that while the federal government's role was enforcing immigration law, the state's role was protecting children.
"It's our sole purpose -- the children," she said. "We'll work through the night if we have to."
Monteiro accompanied a group of 19 case workers and officials who arrived at the McAllen airport on Saturday afternoon.
They were being escorted by federal immigration officials to the Port Isabel Detention Center in Bayview, where about 90 immigrants, mostly women from Central America, were being held.
Another group of 18 Massachusetts officials were headed to a detention center near El Paso, where another 116 immigrants were being held.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Richard Rocha said the agency was cooperating with the Massachusetts officials.
Some of the workers are still being held in facilities in the Massachusetts area. At least 60 of the immigrants were released earlier in the week for humanitarian reasons, mostly involving child care issues.
A federal judge, meanwhile, acting on a request filed by the consul general of Guatemala, has ordered immigration officials not to move any more of the workers out of Massachusetts.
Meredith Linsky, an attorney with the South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation, a nonprofit group that works with immigrants in detention facilities, said she had met with many of the women at the Bayview detention center on Friday.
She said the women were mostly from Guatemala, but also from Brazil and Honduras. She said some said they had been in the country and working as long as 10 years. She said some spoke of being in pain from being handcuffed during the flight. They questioned why they were taken so far away.
"A lot were really upset, a lot of them were crying," she said. "They realize in many cases they're not going to be able to remain in the U.S. One woman was saying 'How do I get my money out of my bank account? How do I get my things? Please can you help me get out of here for a few days to get my things?' They have lives."