Mayor John DeStefano Jr. joined a panel of speakers — including Sen. John Kerry ’66 — at the Boston State House on Monday in discussing what they described as the negative aftermath of the raids the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement has executed in cities across the Northeast over the last year.
DeStefano — basing his statements on the numerous affidavits taken by the city following the raids in the predominantly Latino community of Fair Haven last June — spoke about the impact he judged the raids to have had on members of the New Haven community. The hearings, part of a national commission organized by the United Food and Commercial Workers on ICE “misconduct” and possible violations of the Fourth Amendment, also included testimony from business leaders and mental-health experts who spoke about the raids’ economic and psychological repercussions.
Kerry also discussed a bill he has sponsored in the Senate, the “Families First Immigration Enforcement Act,” that would regulate how such raids can be conducted in the future.
In a phone conversation after the hearing, DeStefano said the city is moving on from last year’s raids and “going about its business of being an open, collaborative community.”
“I thought [the hearing] was useful, and [it was] interesting that the same kind of behaviors we saw — entering without warrants, intimidation — is occurring in many places,” DeStefano said. “I look forward to the nation engaging the issue in a sensible way.”
He said the city is hopeful that the inauguration of a new president and Congress next year will increase the odds that Washington will produce responsible immigration-policy reform.
Kerry, meanwhile, discussed his legislative proposal, which was introduced last September but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee, a committee staff member said.
At Monday’s hearing, the Massachusetts senator addressed a March 2007 ICE raid involving hundreds of federal agents in New Bedford, Mass. — which resulted in the detention of hundreds of employees who could not provide proof of their legal immigration status — and which Kerry called “overkill,” according to prepared remarks provided by his Boston office. He said that while the ICE does important work, it needs to change the way it conducts raids.
Supposed “interviewees” detained by the ICE, Kerry said in his testimony, were “handcuffed and manacled” as agents sought to determine their immigration status.
Kerry’s bill would require that aliens detained in similar raids be afforded translators; given access to state social services, to determine whether they have medical needs; be considered for release based on age-, medical- or family-related humanitarian grounds; and be released within 72 hours if they are not subject to mandatory detention and do not pose a flight risk.
But ICE officials said last week that many of the alleged violations have been fabricated by supporters of illegal immigration.
“I’ve heard things that are patently false, exaggerated to create a fear about law enforcement in this country,” Pat Reilly, an ICE spokeswoman, said in an interview last week. “It’s quite common for people to greatly exaggerate concerns of humanitarian misconduct.”
Tim Counts, another ICE spokesman, said that after similar raids at the Swift Meatpacking plant in Worthington, Minn., in December 2006 some of those involved made similar claims. But over the course of the Swift operations, at which he was present, he said, more than 100 detainees were released early for humanitarian reasons and none was mistreated.
“Yes, they were given water,” he said. “Yes, they were allowed to use the bathroom … and we allowed them to use any telephone that was available,” with agents sometimes offering their personal cell phones for detained workers to use.
But Amaro Laria, director of the Latino Mental Health Training Program at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, said that during the New Bedford raids, there were numerous instances of abuse — about which he testified at Monday’s hearing alongside DeStefano.
Laria said that after the raids, he and some of his students started volunteering, offering mental-health evaluations to women who had been detained as well as to their husbands, siblings and children.
“What struck me was how complex the issues were that we were seeing,” especially in the children who had experienced separation from parents, he said after the hearing. “We started seeing classic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder: nightmares, insomnia, acting out behavior, anxiety paranoia.”
He, along with his students, heard stories about detainees being deprived of water and food for prolonged periods of time, Laria said.
“We face a moral dilemma when this violence is caused by the very forces that claim to protect us from terrorism,” he testified, according to a prepared statement he provided to the News.
The UFCW is holding the hearings in order to develop recommendations that they hope will provide the basis for future Congressional legislation, said Scott Frotman, a union spokesman.