Advocates: Families 'very worried' about raids, deportation

South Coast Today
Kathleen McKiernan
Publication Date: 
January 7, 2016

NEW BEDFORD — Undocumented immigrants and families from Central America living in New Bedford are worried and panicked in light of the federal government’s deportation of 121 individuals living in Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina who were taken into custody this weekend, local immigration advocates said.

It’s a concern. There are a number of families who are very worried,” said Corinn Williams, executive director of the Community Economic Development Center. “It is irresponsible of the Obama administration to strike this panic in the immigrant community. There are families who are in the process of reuniting with family and they fear they are endangered.”

In New Bedford, there are roughly 5,000 to 7,000 immigrants from Central America, advocates say.

Since the summer of 2014, the federal government has increasingly deported migrants to Central America, averaging about 14 flights a week, according to a statement from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh C. Johnson.

Undocumented immigrants who were targeted included adults and their children who were caught crossing the southern border illegally after May 1, 2014, and who did not have an outstanding appeal or claim for asylum or other humanitarian relief, Johnson said in the statement. Over the past weekend, those immigrants were issued final orders of removal by an immigration court.

As I have said repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration; if you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values,” Johnson said.

Advocates argue that the raids are targeting women and children who have fled to the U.S. border to escape violence in their home countries.

More than 100,000 children and parents have fled to the United States from violence in Central America over the last two years, according to the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA).

To raise awareness and educate immigrants on their rights, Centro Presente, a Boston-based immigrant advocacy organization, is holding community forums on Saturday and again on Jan. 30 in Boston.

MIRA is also holding a press conference and “know your rights” forum at 10 a.m. Friday at theChurch of the Covenant at 67 Newbury St. in Boston.

“These raids target people who fear for their lives, who have been terrorized in their home countries — some of the most dangerous countries in the world. They should be eligible for humanitarian relief — not further traumatized and shipped back to extreme violence,” said Eva Millona, executive director of MIRA in a press statement.

In New Bedford, Williams said advocates hope to organize a meeting here in the next couple of weeks.

Local families are frightened, advocates say. Part of the panic is left over from the March 7, 2007, Michael Bianco Inc. raid in which federal immigration officials arrested 361 illegal workers at the former leather goods factory in New Bedford.

In our area, I know there is panic. Don’t panic and stay still,” said Helena DaSilva Hughes, executive director of the Immigrants’ Assistance Center, Inc. “That panic that went on during that (Bianco) raid — it left the undocumented population with a huge scar.”

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