By Brian Boyd
Standard-Times staff writer
U.S. Sen. John Kerry said he wants to add new standards to immigration enforcements because the Michael Bianco Inc. raid was handled in a “haphazard” way.
In a telephone interview Thursday, Sen. Kerry said he is proposing to add stronger guidelines on treatment of detainees to a pending immigration bill because he wants “what we saw in New Bedford to never be repeated again.”
Sen. Kerry, D-Mass, said his amendment to the bipartisan bill would force Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to follow certain standards, such as granting access to state social service agencies.
“Their discretion was abused the last time,” he said.
Sen. Kerry added he does not believe ICE acted maliciously, and he said the country needs to enforce its laws and have a good immigration policy. He said his proposal would make sure there are guidelines in place that are currently missing.
The way the federal government handled the Bianco raid in March reflected a narrow view of the situation, Sen. Kerry said, and he wants to “try to build on the experience and broaden the view.”
The amendment would require federal authorities to work with state social service agencies, allowing them to interview detainees, and to release immigrants on personal recognizance for a range of humanitarian reasons, including pregnant women and nursing mothers. It would also prevent authorities from moving detainees out of the region where they are arrested.
Immigration advocates and state officials charged federal officials gave insufficient consideration to the impact on families during the raid or when they shipped about 200 detainees to Texas soon after their arrests. ICE has countered that it carried out the raid appropriately.
ICE has maintained that it coordinated the raid with the state Department of Social Services from the start, and gave it access to detainees at Fort Devens and in Texas. However, it did not permit DSS into the South End factory during the raid because it was a “crime scene,” and access was limited to law enforcement officials.
Sen. Kerry said the issue is not simply a matter of whether ICE worked with state agencies. He said it is a question of what standards were in place for certain situations, such as the arrest of mothers with young children.
The amendment would not necessarily mean the social service officials would be inside a workplace during a raid, but it would ensure timely access following the enforcement, Sen. Kerry said.
Shipping detainees to distant locations complicated the reunion of families torn apart by the raid, Sen. Kerry said. He wants to require federal officials keep detainees close to home as much as possible and make them available to social service officials for interviewing.
State Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, who led a Statehouse hearing on the raid in March, said the proposal would help reduce many of the hardships experienced by immigrant families and their children.
“I think it’s really important, number one, to coordinate with state agencies,” Sen. Spilka said.
The state’s secretary of health and human services, JudyAnn Bigby, supports “the goals of Sen. Kerry’s legislation to improve the humanitarian policies that protect children and families,” a statement from her office said.
Following the raid, she had called for ICE to create written humanitarian policies.
Sen. Kerry proposes attaching his amendment to an overhaul of the country’s immigration policy currently under consideration by the Senate. He said while some of the details in the overall policy changes, the bipartisan bill represents a good compromise.
“Essentially, I think the bill is a good start to move in the right direction,” he said.
Contact Brian Boyd at email@example.com