Mass. Agency Wants Release Of More Detainees In Texas

Department of Social Services officials returned to Massachusetts Monday, awaiting word on whether federal authorities would release for humanitarian reasons nearly two dozen people being detained in Texas after an immigration raid at a New Bedford factory.

Three dozen DSS employees traveled to Texas over the weekend to interview more than 200 detainees moved there after the roundup last Tuesday of 361 alleged illegal immigrants - mostly from Central America - at Michael Bianco Inc., a company that makes equipment and apparel for the U.S. military.

The employees recommended late Sunday that 21 people be returned to Massachusetts, DSS Commissioner Harry Spence said. Immigration officials in Texas are releasing nine of those 21 on Monday, said Russ Knocke, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, D.C.

"They still have to go through the deportation process," DSS spokeswoman Denise Monteiro said. "We just need them to have some time to secure that their child is safe and with a long-term caregiver."

U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, in a letter sent Monday to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, asked that all detainees be returned to Massachusetts and then released with appropriate supervisory provisions. He also asked that Chertoff meet with him and other members of the state's Congressional delegation this week, and to release the names of the detainees and their location.

Kennedy wrote the steps would "ensure fair treatment of those arrested and attempt to repair in some small measure the damage caused to hundreds of individuals in New Bedford."

In response to Kennedy's request, Knocke said the department has to enforce the law and added that at least 20 percent of the immigrants snared in the raid had already received deportation orders.

"We have to enforce the law and we will continue to do so in an aggressive and sensible way," Knocke said. "Not enforcing the law is not an option."

Spence said most of the people he asked to be returned to the state are women and either the sole or primary caregivers of their children, Spence said. One woman has cancer. The group also includes a 17-year-old boy, he said. Knocke said the boy is 18.

Spence has said the children of those he wants released range in age from 2 to 16, and a few had medical conditions that required special care, including one child that required a feeding tube. All were believed to be born in the United States and therefore are U.S. citizens.

Knocke countered that only two of the immigrants Spence has requested returned are primary caregivers.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Marc Raimondi said the agency was reviewing the requests and would take appropriate action.

He said each detainee also was interviewed multiple times by federal authorities, which led to the release of at least 60 alleged illegal immigrants shortly after the raid, mostly because they needed to care for their children.

"My information is there's still not a child left in a risky or inappropriate situation," he said.

Raimondi added that 55 of those detained already had been ordered removed from the country. Eleven others had re-entered the United States after removal, he said.

"We will continue to evaluate individual cases, and believe that pending immigration hearings before a judge will give detainees yet another opportunity to plead their case," Raimondi said.

The trip to Texas was arranged amid concerns by Gov. Deval Patrick and other state officials that not all the children of those detained had been identified or assured proper care.

In the days following the raid, a 7-month-old child was hospitalized for dehydration because the breast-feeding infant refused to drink formula and the mother was in custody for two nights. Another mother was located in Texas after her 7-year-old child called a hot line state officials created to reunite families.

But Spence said worries that some children may still fall through the cracks have diminished because of the additional interviews.

"I think that worry is very, very significantly narrowed," he said.

DSS and federal immigration authorities must report to a federal judge by the end of business Tuesday on the status of any unresolved cases involving children. U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns made the order after a request was filed by the consul general of Guatemala.

Stearns also ordered that no other alleged illegal immigrants be removed from Massachusetts, and said he would consider whether he has jurisdiction over the detainees being held outside Massachusetts.

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