Governor Deval Patrick, responding to criticism that he had ample warning of an immigration raid in New Bedford and didn't do enough to protect workers' children, said yesterday that federal officials had reneged on promises that the raid would be made in coordination with the state.
Patrick said his administration had received assurances that state social workers would be given access to illegal immigrants at the Michael Bianco Inc. factory on the day of their arrests to determine whether they had children who needed to be cared for.
"Our expectation, for example, was that we would have access at the site to individuals who were being detained," the governor said at a press conference yesterday. "We then expected we would have access at [Fort] Devens. We didn't get that access from the folks who were making the calls on the ground. Those were all understandings we had going in."
However, Patrick's account is at odds with those of Kevin Burke, the state's public safety secretary, and Harry Spence, the commissioner of the Department of Social Services. In an interview with the Globe, Burke said that in the weeks preceding the raid, his attempts to ensure that DSS workers would have access to workers immediately after the arrests were repeatedly rebuffed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
"My concern was for the effect this would have on families and what responsibility people were taking for dealing with families," said Burke, whose office was in regular contact with ICE over the course of more than two months leading up to the raid.
"I raised this on every occasion, and [ICE] assured me they had done this before, they would be compassionate, and there wouldn't be any unnecessary separation of children and mothers," Burke said. "I knew [the problems] could expand beyond what they may have anticipated, but they did not want DSS directly involved."
Bruce Foucart, the ICE special agent in charge who oversaw the New Bedford operation, also contradicted Patrick's version of events.
"They were never going to be allowed in the factory, because it was a crime scene," Foucart said. "This is where we collect evidence. They knew this."
At a Feb. 28 meeting, Foucart repeated ICE's position that DSS workers would not be allowed inside the factory. But he agreed to having an ICE liaison work with social workers at the DSS office in New Bedford on the day of the raids to relay information about stranded children or other family emergencies.
Asked about the inconsistency between Patrick's description and others', Kyle Sullivan, the governor's spokesman, said last night that Patrick had understood that DSS would not be allowed into the factory. Asked whether Patrick had misspoken, Sullivan declined to comment.
"The governor thought there was going to be full cooperation," Sullivan said.
Accounts by Burke and Spence indicate that state and federal officials were talking regularly about the raid in the months leading up to it. Beginning on Dec. 29, Burke or his deputy, Kurt N. Schwartz, had four conversations with ICE, in addition to e-mail correspondence. Burke and Schwartz had also briefed the governor's senior staff on two occasions.
Concerns about workers' children was a topic of discussions in all of those conversations and meetings, Burke said.
He called the operation a success from a law enforcement point of view, but a "disaster from a humanitarian point of view."
"It left kids and families in a position of potential danger," he said. "The moral rudder was somehow lost in this. There was more concern getting these folks out of the state than there was concern at making sure mothers and children . . . had a chance to connect with each other."
In the days after the raid, immigrant advocates said scores of children were stranded with relatives and baby sitters as they pushed to have mothers freed from custody at the former Army base at Fort Devens and then from two federal detention facilities in Texas, where about 200 workers were flown two days later.
Patrick criticized the operation for being a "race to the airport," and Spence was especially angry that about half of the workers were flown out of Massachusetts before DSS workers interviewed them.
But ICE officials said the operation worked exactly as it should have: Several rounds of interviews by ICE investigators gradually found more and more workers who qualified for release on humanitarian grounds, and DSS workers were allowed to see the detainees to assist in that process as soon as it was appropriate, said Foucart.
By yesterday, 90 of the more than 300 workers arrested in the raid had been released on humanitarian grounds, said Marc Raimondi, an ICE spokesman.
"We had so many protective layers on this thing," he said. "We caught as many people as we could identify who had child-care needs. The frustrating thing is that we don't always get the correct information when we ask."