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Guatemalan urges halt to deportations

Diplomat appeals for intervention

A Guatemalan diplomat called on the United States yesterday to halt all deportations to the Central American nation, including those of the more than 170 Guatemalans detained last week at a New Bedford factory.

Consul General Carlos Avila Sandoval, who covers five of the six New England states, said the deportations are flooding the struggling nation with jobless workers. Last year 18,500 men and women were sent back to Guatemala, and this year the number could surpass 20,000, he said.

At least 47 percent of the 361 workers detained in the raid are from Guatemala, he said.

Avila Sandoval spoke a day after Guatemala's conservative leader -- President Oscar Berger, a US ally -- personally urged President Bush during his tour of Latin America to stop the deportations. Bush refused, but said he would push quickly for a temporary worker program.

Avila Sandoval said he has also asked US Senator John F. Kerry and Representative William D . Delahunt to intervene, and is grateful for their help so far. Avila Sandoval filed the federal court case that required federal immigration and Massachusetts authorities to work together to determine how many detainees were separated from their children because of the raid.

Meanwhile, immigrant advocates continued yesterday to get the word out they are seeking donations, and lawyers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Social Services, and the Guatemalan Consulate traveled to the Moakley Federal Courthouse in South Boston to file briefs that were due.

Last Friday, US District Judge Richard G. Stearns ordered DSS and ICE to work together to solve the problem of detainees who are mothers or primary caregivers and have been separated from their children. Their reports were due back yesterday.

In the same hearing, Stearns ordered Harvey Kaplan, the attorney representing the Guatemalan Consulate, and Barbara Healy Smith, the attorney representing ICE, to present written arguments on whether Stearns has jurisdiction over the detainees who have been moved out of state. Those briefs were also due yesterday.

Stearns said last Friday that he would not rule immediately.

Immigrant advocates announced yesterday that they are seeking to raise more than $200,000 to help the families of workers detained after the March 6 raid of Michael Bianco Inc., a New Bedford leather goods factory.

At least 250 relatives of the detained workers are now without breadwinners, said Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, standing in front of the State House yesterday.

All of the money will go directly to the families. About $65,000 has been raised.

The money will be used for housing, utilities, food, medicine, and transportation costs. Organizers say they are constructing an oversight mechanism to ensure that the money is properly allocated.

"Nobody here is a disaster relief organization," Noorani said, waving his arm past six advocates standing behind him. "We are working hard to make sure this process is transparent."

Dozens of families have picked up donations stacked high on tables in the basement of St. James Church in New Bedford.

A day after the raid, a steady stream of residents dropped off diapers, children's clothing, canned goods, and other food.

Church volunteers interviewed those seeking to pick up donations, then handed them plastic bags to fill.

The raid is having an impact in Guatemala, one of the hemisphere's poorest nations.

In a telephone interview from Guatemala yesterday, Enrique Chach, who lives in a small farming village in the northwest department of El Quiché, said the hundreds of dollars his sister-in-law sent home before she was detained in New Bedford kept their family afloat.

The money bought milk, sugar, and meat for the three sons she left behind, ages 12, 10, and 8.

If she is sent back, she will not find work, he said. They are afraid to live in the cities, which are plagued by crime and drug-related violence.

"Now they eat well," said Chach, 29, who once worked shucking scallops in New Bedford, but had to return to his wife. "Here in my country there is no possibility of work. That's why we go to the United States. If we had enough money, we would never go."

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