Federal immigration officials raided two labor camps on Maryland's Eastern Shore at 4 a.m. yesterday and arrested 71 migrant farm workers who were working illegally in this country.
Twelve hours later the group was loaded on a passenger bus and sent to Texas for deportation.
The raid was part of a routine check on migrant camps that immigration officials have been conducting all summer in an effort to keep illegal workers out of the fields.
"Every year there are more here," immigration and naturalization officer Robert Short said, "We periodically check in the area, especially in the harvest season."
At one camp where 900 farm workers are housed, men and women were seen jumping out of windows and running into the woods to avoid detention, according to two witnesses.
Eleven men were arrested at the 6-L camp in Kingston and 59 persons, including one woman, were arrested at the Westover camp, after 27 agents, acting on a tip from an unidentified informant, drove into the camps.
The woman was reported to have left her children, who were born in the United States and have the right to remain in this country, with another family so they would not be deported with her.
For the past 20 years immigration authorities have been raiding the crop-rich farmland of the Eastern Shore, according to Short.Area farmers say the raids came later this year than in the past, occurring just as the tomato harvest is coming to an end and many of the Spanish-speaking migrants are beginning preparations to leave camp.
Farmers who worked with the migrants said they were "surprise" the raids had not come sooner. Others said the delayed raids were an attempt by immigration officials to "keep peace with the farmers," according to one member of the Del Mar Migrant Health Project.
Last year raid conducted along the Eastern Shore in the peak harvest season incurred the wrath of several farmers who were stripped on their labor force at a crucial market time.
"But now," Charles Bruce of the Somerset County Growers Association said, "it really won't hurt anybody. Our tomato crop is just about ruined anyway. What's left, the rain has ruined.
The 400 Spanish-speaking migrant workers left in the camps are waiting for another round of raids to begin, according to a member of the health project.
"The sentiment around here is pretty bad today," Carmen Sanchez said.