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Free Trade And Stranded Children


While the Bush Administration imploded from yet another scandal, the President was visiting Brazil, Uruguay, Columbia, Guatemala and Mexico to promote free trade and let his hosts know how much he cares about their people. As expected anti-Bush protests dogged the trip, but as Tuesday's NYT reported, the President encountered an unexpected level of anger in Guatemala because of something egregious that happened in Massachusetts last week. Massachusetts?

GUATEMALA CITY, March 12 — President Bush came to this struggling Central American nation on Tuesday bearing a message that free trade with the United States would improve conditions for even the poorest Latin Americans.

But he was also confronted with an angry, outside-in perspective on the immigration debate raging at home, with even his otherwise friendly host, President Óscar Berger, using a ceremonial welcome to criticize the arrest of several hundred illegal workers, many of them Guatemalans, in Massachusetts last week.

Pachacutec, Christy and others posted articles on roundups by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of suspected illegal immigrants that occurred last December. Last week’s ICE raid occurred in New Bedford, Massachusetts and inflamed not only the affected families and immigrant community but many State officials. The Boston Globe reported the terror and panic during the raid, and this original AP report discussed what happened to their children:

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. –Dozens of young children were stranded at schools and with baby sitters after their parents were rounded up by federal authorities who raided a leather goods maker suspected of hiring illegal immigrants, authorities said Wednesday.

Gov. Deval Patrick said the children of the detainees — most of whom are from Guatemala and El Salvador — might not be receiving proper care. However, federal immigration officials insisted they coordinated with state social service agencies in advance to prepare for child care.

"We are particularly concerned about the Guatemalan community and the risk that they may be fearful about disclosing the existence or whereabouts of their children given their history with government agencies," Patrick wrote in a letter asking U.S. Rep. William Delahunt to ensure federal authorities allow social workers access to the detainees.

Immigration officials said 327 of the 500 employees of Michael Bianco Inc., mostly women, were detained Tuesday for possible deportation as illegal aliens.

About 100 children were stuck with baby sitters, caretakers and others, said Corinn Williams, director of the Community Economic Development Center of Southeastern Massachusetts.

"We're continuing to get stories today about infants that were left behind," she said. "It's been a widespread humanitarian crisis here in New Bedford."

ICE officials insisted that no children were stranded and that ICE had coordinated with State social service agencies, but that claim was exaggerated. [Maybe not: see UPDATE below] Frustrated State officials went to federal court to force ICE to allow the State to find out what was happening to affected parents and children. Last Friday, a federal judge ordered ICE officials to cooperate with the State in helping to identify and locate the stranded children.

Before the State could get an accurate accounting of how many children were stranded and where, ICE rendered the captured parents to Texas for possible deportation. That forced the State DSS to fly teams to Texas to interview the captured parents. By this weekend, DSS was still identifying cases of single parents, ill children or children with special needs. And some children may still be unaccounted for.

DSS social workers said detainees told them they feared for their children in Massachusetts. The children range in age from infants to a 17-year-old, and include a disabled 4-year-old girl who requires a feeding tube and 2-year-old boy with a respiratory ailment.

Some detainees told DSS workers that their children were with baby-sitters relatives, or friends. Some did not know where they were, according to DSS workers who interviewed more than 200 detainees this weekend in Port Isabel Detention Center, near Harlingen, and another center in El Paso.

DSS Commissioner Harry Spence said he was "extremely upset and angry" that immigration officials whisked the detainees, mostly women, out of Massachusetts on Wednesday before these cases were discovered.

"If the department had been given access to the detainees at Fort Devens on Tuesday night, as we consistently requested, then a great deal of this could have been avoided," Spence said in Harlingen. "The threats to the children's safety that the federal action caused could have been greatly diminished."

Now you know why the Guatemalans seemed incredulous when Bush proclaimed, "No es verdad! I care." "Stop the deportations," they answered.

UDPATE: A commenter from Boston notes a Boston Globe article this a.m. which reveals that State officials were briefed about the upcoming raids well in advance. There seems more than enough blame to go around.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley