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Immigration raid strands children

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published March 8, 2007


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

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

About 100 children were stuck with babysitters, 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."

Company owner Francesco Insolia, 50, and three top managers were arrested. A fifth person was arrested on charges of helping workers obtain fake identification.

Authorities allege Insolia oversaw sweatshop conditions so he could meet the demands of $91-million in U.S. military contracts.

Authorities released 45 detainees who were sole caregivers to children. No more releases were planned, said Marc Raimondi, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Eight pregnant women were also released for humanitarian reasons.

Those still in custody were given the option of letting their children stay with a guardian or putting them in state care, Raimondi said.

Investigators said the workers toiled in dingy conditions and faced onerous fines, such as a $20 charge for talking while working and spending more than two minutes in the bathroom.

"They were given no options. It's either here, or the risk of no income at all. Clearly, they were exploited because of the fact they were here illegally," U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said.

"The whole story will come out, and at that point it will be a very different scenario," said Insolia's lawyer, Inga Bernstein.

[Last modified March 8, 2007, 02:12:33]


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