Lawyers Journal

New Bedford immigration raid separates families but unites legal community response

On March 6, a team of Immigration and Customs
Enforcement agents raided Michael Bianco Inc, a New
Bedford factory that specializes in the manufacture of
leather goods, much
of that work performed
by illegal
According to allegations in an ICE press release, an
MBI owner and other MBI employees working on his
behalf knowingly and actively hired illegal aliens.
Although MBI requires all prospective employees to
produce proof of their identity and their eligibility to
work, the company was aware that many employees had
obtained fraudulent Alien Registration Cards, commonly
known as “green cards,” and Social Security Cards. ICE further
alleged that MBI management even instructed prospective
employees, including an undercover ICE agent, on how
to obtain such fraudulent documents.
Of approximately 360 workers arrested during the raid,
about 110 were the sole caregivers for one or more children
in the United States, according to federal and state authorities.
Those arrested were transported and imprisoned 100
miles away, at Fort Devens, to determine their alienage and
immigration status. The detainees, about one-third of those
arrested, were then held in Massachusetts or transported to
two locations in Texas.
The night of the raid, lawyers from Greater Boston
Legal Services and the American Civil Liberties Union
spent most of night at the Fort Devens detention facility.
Even though there were six lawyers the first night of the
raid and 16 GBLS staff and others at Fort Devens the second
night, they were only permitted to interview 31
detainees over the course of about 18-and-a-half hours
before ICE began shipping them to Texas, according to
GBLS Executive Director Bob Sable.
According to an ICE spokesman, approximately 90
detainees were released on humanitarian grounds, mostly
because they were the primary caregivers to minor children.
Those released still face deportation hearings.
Immigrant advocates lashed out at the government for
the raid, and elected officials, including U.S. Sen. John
Kerry, denounced the raid for causing “what those on the
ground are describing as a humanitarian crisis in
Southeastern Massachusetts.”
In a statement following the raid, U.S. Attorney Michael
Sullivan said, “It is understandable that many from around
the globe would want to come to live, work and raise families
here in the greatest democracy in the world. However,
this must be done in compliance with U.S. immigration
laws – not in violation of them.”
On March 27, attorneys representing the detainees
received word that the government intended to deport 123
of the 361 workers arrested at MBI, but that number may
have included detainees being held in New England and
those who were under prior orders or deportation or who
re-entered the country after being deported before.
Although ICE claimed that many of the detainees held
in Texas voluntarily accepted removal orders, on April 6,
Greater Boston Legal Services and Harvey Kaplan, of
Kaplan, O’Sullivan & Friedman LLP, asked for and were
granted a temporary restraining order. They claimed that
the rights of the detainees may have been violated because
they were sent to Texas without speaking to counsel and did
not have documents properly translated for them.
As part of the 10-day restraining order, ICE was
required to provide GBLS with access to the detainees and
with a list of the names of the detainees that ICE claimed
had voluntarily accepted removal orders. The list ICE was
required to provide was the first detailed accounting of
those who had waived their rights. Advocates for the immigrants
have suggested the detainees who agreed to waive
their rights to a hearing were pressured or misled into doing
so. ICE officials deny that claim, saying the immigrants had
access to attorneys throughout their detentions and were
continually informed of their rights.
Nine people from Massachusetts went to Texas to interview
the detainees after the federal court ordered ICE to
allow them access. The interview team comprised six GBLS
attorneys and one paralegal, a lawyer from Catholic Social
Services and a local community activist from New Bedford
who can speak quiche, a Mayan language spoken by many
of the detainees.
Of 80 detainees interviewed, 54 expressed a desire to
withdraw their waivers and claim a right to a hearing.
“It’s startling that 54 people stated that they did not
wish to waive their rights once they had access to counsel,”
said Kaplan. “Our position is these people have been severely
prejudiced by not having access to counsel and the government
went out of its way and acted in bad faith to deter
counsel from conferring with these people.”
The legal community responds
Striking in the chaos of the raid and relocation of
detainees was the rapid, coordinated response of so many in
the Massachusetts legal community.
Although their constituencies may be different, recent
debates about comprehensive immigration reform have
forged relationships among immigration attorneys and their
varied organizations, including the American Immigration
Lawyers Association, the Massachusetts Immigrant and
Refugee Advocacy Coalition, the American Civil Liberties
Union, Greater Boston Legal Services, the Political
Asylum/Immigration Representation Project and the
Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.
Because of those relationships, attorneys from these
organizations were able to connect, even while the raid was
happening. AILA New England Chapter Chair Punam
Rogers, Foley Hoag LLP, was among those who contacted
the media, informed immigration attorneys
as to what was happening, recruited volunteers
to go to the detention center and
drafted a federal court action.
“There was information sharing and
coordination; everyone was working together.
Because of that, it got the press it
deserved and a lot of issues that would have
been overlooked got examined,” said
In particular, the humanitarian issues,
not just the legal issues, were spotlighted in
the media. The public was made aware that
the majority of those to be deported were
women, caretakers of their dependent children.
The public learned that MBI owners
were criminally sanctioned but were out on
bail the next day, while the undocumented
workers were transported hundreds of miles
from their families, with no access to legal
“The response was truly amazing,” said
Rogers. “Eighty-five attorneys went to
training by PAIR Project. A lot were not
immigration attorneys, but they just wanted
to help. People really responded, I think,
because of media and coalition partners
who got everyone together, who got people
together from the start.”
The PAIR immigration bond training
session was held at the law firm of Mintz,
Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo PC.
According to Sarah Ignatius, PAIR’s
executive director, the initial training was
on bond issues and ways to put together a
bond hearing so that people could be
released. But in order to be successful in
immigration court, to get a bond that the
client could afford to pay, clients have to
speak about the kind of relief from deportation
they might be eligible for. This
requires attorneys to be trained in interviewing,
to get facts and to know the legal
“We have all been so impressed by the
tremendous response of the private bar in
volunteering to help families torn apart by
this raid,” said Ignatius. “I’m overwhelmed
by the strong show of support and the willingness
to take this on, since our time
frames are so short. These attorneys have
had to become instant experts on immigration
She notes that the detainees’ cases can
be time and labor intensive. The volunteer
attorneys have had to go to the detention
centers, arrange interpreters and deal with
prison officials and families. “It can be
challenging, emotionally difficult and compelling.
People have really risen to the occasion,”
said Ignatius.
“The legal community in Massachusetts
has been tremendous,” said Kaplan. “We’ve
had at least 80 lawyers volunteer. It touches
a nerve, to any attorney, that there’s something
wrong [with the conduct of the
Roy J. Watson Jr., chair of the MBA’s
Immigration Law Committee, said, “It’s
fortunate that the attorneys were able to
respond so quickly. We can’t praise these
attorneys enough.” Watson explained that
it was honorable for the responding attorneys
to put aside their busy lives to offer
The silver lining
In addition to demonstrating the unity
and commitment of the legal community,
the New Bedford raid has had a positive
impact on other fronts.
According to Ali Noorani, executive
director for the Massachusetts Immigrant
and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, it has
been a challenge for his organization to
meet the incredible social, financial and
advocacy needs that have come as a result
of the New Bedford raids. Yet, this local
crisis may serve as the national issue in the
campaign to push comprehensive immigration
In addition, much like FEMA’s emergency
action plans, AILA is using this experience
to inform the action list it is drafting
on how to respond to an ICE raid. The
issue was highlighted with the Swift meat
packing plant raids last December, and
AILA now has a task force with attorneys
from all over the country putting together a
tool kit on how to respond to the different
aspects of a raid — how to handle employees
and employers, detention issues, federal
court, immigration court, removal proceedings
and humanitarian parole.
“The raid has brought out, in some
ways, the best qualities of people, of compassion,
a willingness to help families in
their desperate situations,” Ignatius said.
As proof, she revealed that in early
April, PAIR hired a new staff attorney
whose only assignment was to mentor pro
bono attorneys working on the cases resulting
from the New Bedford raid.
“That position was solely funded by one
very generous individual, Robert J. Hildreth,”
she said. Hildreth is a philanthropist
and head of International Bank Services in
“We had not known him before, but he
has supported other efforts involving people
from Latin America. He stepped forward
and genuinely wanted to help.”
Watson is impressed with the response
of the MBA’s Immigration Law Committee
members. “The MBA has been incredibly
supportive of the council’s efforts and
everything we’ve done.”
According to Watson, 43 MBA members
volunteered to provide follow-up support
to the detainees. “I’m proud we stood
up and helped, and I’m optimistic we can
do more in future,” he said.
Certain that this is the tip of the iceberg
in stepped-up government enforcement of
immigration laws, Watson warned, “We
owe a debt of gratitude to those who jumped
in this time, but we can’t keep going
back to them. The rest of us need to be


©2017 Massachusetts Bar Association