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Federal judge orders halt to moving of detainees

BOSTON --A federal judge on Friday ordered immigration officials not to move out of state any more of the New Bedford factory workers who were detained earlier this week in a raid that advocates say has left a "humanitarian crisis" in its wake.

U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns, acting on a request filed by the consul general of Guatemala, ordered that any of the 361 people picked up at Michael Bianco Inc. who had not yet been moved to detention centers out of state remain in Massachusetts.

The roundup of the workers -- mostly women from Central America -- left dozens of families in turmoil in New Bedford. Authorities allege company owner Francesco Insolia oversaw sweatshop conditions so he could meet the demands of $91 million in U.S. military contracts. He denies the allegations.

Social service workers remained concerned Friday that not all the children of those detained had been identified or assured proper care.

Gov. Deval Patrick said the "humanitarian crisis" was not yet over. Two teams of 18 workers -- led by state Department of Social Service commissioner Harry Spence -- planned to fly Saturday to Texas to interview workers who were sent from Massachusetts to detention centers near El Paso and Harlingen.

"Our focus is on the children and those other vulnerable people who were affected by this," Patrick said. "It is a humanitarian crisis and it is not over yet."

Marc Raimondi, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, had no comment on Patrick's remarks and did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the judge's order.

Earlier this week, at least 60 people detained from the raid were released for humanitarian reasons, most related to child care issues. They must still appear before a judge for immigration hearings. At least 200 of the detainees had been moved to out of state facilities, Raimondi said.

On Friday, Patrick said several others were being released, including five children and two mothers.

Four of the children were being held in Florida, and a mother and her child were being held in Pennsylvania. Patrick said they would be returned Friday, but didn't say how.

Another mother was located in Texas after her 7-year-old child called a hotline that state officials created to reunite families. She also was to be returned Friday, Patrick said.

Judge Stearns ordered the state Department of Social Services and ICE to report to him by the end of business Tuesday on the status of any cases involving minor children that remain unresolved.

The court said it would consider arguments next week whether it has jurisdiction over detainees from the New Bedford raid who are being held outside of Massachusetts.

"We still hope to convince the court that it has jurisdiction over people who've been sent to Texas and to direct the government to bring them back," said Bernard C. Bonn, one of the attorneys who appeared in court to defend the immigrants Friday. Bonn said if the move was unsuccessful, lawyers in Texas will push to have the detainees sent back to Massachusetts.

"What happened today is that the light of the judicial branch was shined on our nation's immigration system," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. "While this is far from a victory, the inconsistencies and inequities of the system are becoming more clear."

In New Bedford, members of Our Lady of Guadeloupe at St. James Church were trying to organize a day care service for the children of those with detained parents, said Carol Walsh, a parishioner. Immigrant families are still going there to seek help.

"We're just asking them to see what their priority is right now," Walsh said. "Is it food? It is child care? Do they need a telephone number so they know where their family member is?"

Before Friday, the state identified at least 35 children whose parents were arrested, said JudyAnn Bigby, secretary of Health and Human Services. She said those children are staying with relatives or friends, but added that it's important for social workers to interview their parents to make sure the kids are staying with responsible adults.

The company, which has made products including safety vests and lightweight backpacks for the military, has also done work for the Army. Insolia and four others were arrested.

In his first public reaction, Insolia said Friday the allegations are untrue.

"We have operated our factories since 1985 with no complaints about cleanliness, working conditions and treatment of workers," Insolia said in a statement. "We have always paid our workers the state-mandated minimum wage or above and offered employer-matched health care benefits, paid holidays and vacations, and other benefits."

The company, which has made products including safety vests and lightweight backpacks for the military, has also done work for the Army.

"Federal officials, including military and Department of Defense officials have toured our facilities many times and have always found them to be satisfactory," Insolia said.

"Furthermore, a Department of Defense quality control inspector has been present and onsite up to four days a week at our current factory since 2004 and has freely and frequently walked the premises and interacted with our workers without incident or complaint," he said.