Correction to This Article
A March 18 article on the impact of a raid by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency at a factory in New Beford, Mass., incorrectly said that Marta Escoto, one of those arrested, was not allowed to contact her family for three days. She was, in fact, allowed a telephone call on the evening of her arrest. The Post also erred in not contacting ICE in preparing the article. ICE spokesman Marc Raimondi said the agency "took extraordinary steps to respect humanitarian concerns during the New Bedford worksite enforcement operation that included months of coordination with the Massachusetts Department of Safety and the humanitarian release of more than 90 of the 361 illegal aliens apprehended."

Immigration Raid Rips Families

About 360 employees of Michael Bianco Inc., in New Bedford, Mass., were detained by federal officials for possible deportation as illegal immigrants after a raid on the company.
About 360 employees of Michael Bianco Inc., in New Bedford, Mass., were detained by federal officials for possible deportation as illegal immigrants after a raid on the company. (By Stephan Savoia -- Associated Press)

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By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 18, 2007

NEW BEDFORD, Mass -- During her two years working in a garment factory alongside hundreds of other immigrants, there were few assurances in Marta Escoto's uncertain life. One of them was the promise she made to her children -- I will always take care of you.

It was a promise she was unable to keep this month. Escoto and at least 360 other illegal immigrants were taken into custody here March 6 after a raid by federal agents on the Michael Bianco Inc. factory -- a military contractor 60 miles south of Boston. Many of them, including Escoto, 38, were women whose detention separated them from their children, some of whom were stranded at day-care centers, schools, or friends' or relatives' homes.

Immigration officials said they made provisions for the children so none would be left alone. But in the days right after the raid -- as a 7-year-old called a hotline and asked for her mother, and a breastfeeding baby refused a bottle and was hospitalized for dehydration -- Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) began to categorize the raid's aftermath as a "humanitarian crisis."

Escoto, like most of those detained, was flown to a holding center in Texas as deportation proceedings began. A single mother, she was separated from her two young children, who were born in the United States and are U.S. citizens. Daniel, 2, asked for her constantly, while relatives worried about the care of frail 4-year-old Jessie -- who cannot walk and suffers from an illness that prevents her from absorbing enough nutrition.

Both children were in day care when their mother was arrested, leaving Escoto's sister scrambling to care for them along with her own two children.

The case underscores one of the pitfalls confronting federal authorities as they launch ever more aggressive raids in search of illegal immigrants: How should officials factor in their children, some of whom were born in the United States and are citizens?

It also points to a dilemma illegal immigrants face daily. They come to the United States to provide a better life for their families, but that illegal act can mean they risk the family being torn apart if they are caught.

Escoto's family is from Honduras. Escoto paid a "coyote" to guide her over the border during a grueling 15-day trek through the desert in 2000, and she came to New Bedford. This is an old mill town of 100,000 with a declining industrial base and a surging population of immigrants. Escoto's first job was in a fish-packing plant. She was always afraid of an immigration raid, a fear that lessened after she landed a job at Bianco, which maintains a $92 million contract to make backpacks and other accessories for the U.S. military. Because of the government contract, the company appeared to be safer from raids.

Escoto -- who has four older children by her first marriage -- worked alongside her two eldest sons, David and Deibin Cubas, who are 21 and 19. She earned $7.50 an hour sewing in a high-ceilinged room with boarded-up windows. Stitchers at the factory say they are fined $20 for talking or spending more than two minutes in the bathroom. But the family was beginning to feel safe.

Then hundreds of armed federal authorities burst in on March 6. In an interview with The Washington Post this week, Escoto said she heard their orders: "Don't run! Turn off the machines!"

Her sister, Andrea Maldonado, 36, got word of the raid while at work in a nearby garment factory. She said she went to Bianco and found hundreds of workers sitting on the floor, their hands cuffed. Escoto, her two eldest sons and three siblings were all arrested.

"I told them my sister has children, but they didn't do anything," Maldonado said.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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