A project of the Center for Community Change

Justice Speaks

Judge temporarily forbids deportation of New Bedford immigrants
By Jesse Harlan Alderman, Associated Press Writer | April 6, 2007

BOSTON –A Massachusetts judge issued a temporary restraining order on Friday barring federal officials from deporting a large bloc of illegal immigrants snared in a New Bedford factory raid last month and now held at Texas detention centers.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns granted the emergency request from lawyers for the detained immigrants, who argued that about 110 of 360 workers arrested may have agreed to waive an appeal of their deportation order under duress or with improper translators.

The restraining order lasts for 10 days and does not apply to detainees that already had been ordered deported before they were arrested in the March 6 raid at the Michael Bianco Inc. factory that makes equipment and apparel for the U.S. military. Stearns’ order also requires the government to turn over a list of all names and locations of immigrants held outside of Massachusetts who have voluntarily agreed to deportation, and requires the government to allow lawyers to meet with those detainees to make sure they fully understand their rights.

Attorneys for the detainees argue that federal immigration officials tried to hurry the deportation process and separate the former Massachusetts workers from their lawyers and families by taking many of them to holding centers in Port Isabel, near Harlingen, Texas, and to El Paso, in some cases hours after the raid.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have continually said they have not denied legal counsel to any of the detainees.

“We believe the information required by the Court’s order will demonstrate that ICE is and remains committed to the due process of all immigration status violators in ICE custody,” spokesman Marc Raimondi said in an e-mail. “It’s important to remember that the illegal aliens arrested during the New Bedford enforcement action have always had access to legal materials, legal services and their consulates.”

Spokeswoman Christina DiIorio-Sterling said the U.S. Attorney’s office would not comment on the judge’s order because it involves pending litigation.

Bernard J. Bonn III, an attorney for the detainees, said the judge may be disenchanted by the government’s haste in ordering the mostly indigenous Central American factory workers to leave the country.

“I think he was troubled by the government not being more flexible in this,” Bonn said.

At the emergency hearing Friday, Stearns chided the assistant U.S. attorney and ICE lawyers for their unwillingness to turn over the names of detainees involved in deportation proceedings.

“I’m a little baffled by the position of the government on this,” Stearns said.

Mark Grady, an assistant U.S. attorney, argued that the names were not released because of privacy concerns. He said the government was not trying to cut corners in the deportation process. The removal of many immigrants to Texas was the result of limited bed space in Massachusetts, he said.

“Instead of those in New Bedford, you’d simply have the next 250 aliens in Massachusetts shipped to Texas,” Grady said.

Bonn said a delegation of lawyers from Massachusetts will travel to Texas to interview detainees who waived their right to appeal. He said he expects many will change their mind after meeting with attorneys fluent in Spanish and connected to their families back in New Bedford. Some relatives of the detainees came to watch the hearing wearing red and green indigenous dresses.

The lawyers could then file appeals or request new deportation hearings, Bonn said.

“We think among those, we will find many people who did not understand the process,” he said. “That was clear from talking to many people at the hearing today who felt their family members were coerced. We’re not talking about Abu-Ghraib type of coercion, but we’re talking about people who were scared and did not understand the situation.”

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