- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has dismissed accusations that a raid on a Massachusetts clothing and leather manufacturer that netted more than 360 illegal aliens was “ill-conceived and hastily implemented.”

In a letter to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who made the accusations in letters last week to Mr. Chertoff about the March 6 raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on Michael Bianco Inc. (MBI), the Homeland Security boss said agents took “decisive and proper action against serial violations of our immigration laws.”

“I appreciate your genuine concern about this matter and look forward to working with you on the general issue of immigration reform,” he said. “I believe the credibility of [the Department of Homeland Security] as a partner in immigration reform is enhanced by our determination to enforce our immigration laws firmly as well as fairly.”

Mr. Kennedy has derided the New Bedford, Mass., raid, saying the illegal aliens taken into custody “had not harmed anyone.” He called them the “victims of exploitation,” saying none had any reason to expect that Homeland Security “would decide to make an example out of them.”

The Massachusetts Democrat said the department “must be held accountable for its failure to take adequate steps to protect innocent children from the fallout from this raid.”

Several raid critics said the children of some of those arrested were left on their own, but Mr. Chertoff said ICE agents “acted with compassion and only after joint planning with state officials.” He said the raid was prompted by accusations of “serious and continuing criminal activity” by MBI’s owner and associates, including charges of deliberate exploitation and mistreatment of illegal labor.

“In carrying out any enforcement operation, ICE cannot ignore the presence of individuals illegally in the United States,” he said. “In this case, precisely to ensure that children at home or school were not left unattended, ICE worked closely with the Massachusetts Department of Social Services before the operation commenced and at every stage of the operation itself.”

Criminal complaints accused MBI owner Francesco Insolia, 50; payroll manager Ana Figueroa, 40; plant manager Dilia Costa, 55; and office manager Gloria Melo, 41, of conspiring to encourage or induce illegal aliens to reside in the U.S. and conspiring to hire illegals. Luis Torres, 45, also was charged with providing phony identification papers to MBI workers.

The complaints said employees were docked pay by 15 minutes for every minute they were late; were fined $20 for spending more than two minutes in the restroom; were provided one roll of toilet paper per restroom stall per day; were fined $20 for leaving the work area before the break bell sounds; and were fined $20 for talking while working.

Mr. Chertoff said ICE was compelled to move arrested aliens to ICE detention facilities in other locations because of the lack of available and approved local detention space. He said before any of the illegals detained at MBI were transported, ICE asked them about their child care obligations and took steps to ensure that sole caregivers were released.

“When an alien made a valid claim that he or she was a sole caregiver of a child, ICE released the individual with supervision,” he said. “Further, those detained without final orders have the opportunity to seek release before an immigration judge.”

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