NYT Gives Bush a Pass on New Bedford Raid

The Times's account of what went down in an immigration raid in Massachusetts last week was notable for what it left out.

Today’s New York Times story on President Bush’s visit to Guatemala was driven by a conflict highlighted in the second paragraph, as Bush’s counterpart, President ├ôscar Berger, used “a ceremonial welcome to criticize the arrest of several hundred illegal workers, many of them Guatemalans, in Massachusetts last week.”

Berger’s criticism — he referred to migrants “who have been deported without clear justification” — reflected, according to the Times, “the longstanding anger here over deportation of Guatemalans from the United States, which has been stoked by a raid last week in which more than 300 workers were arrested at Michael Bianco Inc., a company in New Bedford, Massachusetts, that provides vests for the military.”

But when compared to other press accounts of what actually went down in New Bedford, the Times’s piece almost reads like it could have been penned by Tony Snow.

“Newspapers here have been dominated by news of the raid, and stories abound of families torn apart and children left behind as their parents were sent off to Texas and New Mexico for deportation, but federal officials say 60 people were released for humanitarian reasons,” the Times wrote.

Well, that’s okay as far as it goes. But it glosses over just how messy the situation got. On Friday, the Boston Globe reported Governor Deval Patrick’s protest of the federal government’s decision to fly ninety detained workers to Texas “before state social workers had a chance to inquire about their child-care needs, potentially leaving many children with inadequate care.” The Globe added that social workers, when they were finally given access to the detainees at a former Army base late last Wednesday, did manage to find “20 detainees, whom federal agents had not identified, and who they determined should be returned to New Bedford: four pregnant or nursing mothers, nine single mothers, and seven detainees who were minors under age 17.”

Yesterday, the Globe reported that the Massachusetts Department of Social Services called for the release of twenty-one of the detainees held in Texas, including nineteen who “are the sole or primary caretakers of children in New Bedford.” The paper noted that legal advocates for the detainees were still trying to untangle the mess and figure out exactly how many children were separated from their parents and where all the detainees were being held. One family support advocate in New Bedford estimated “that as many as 180 children had one parent who was detained.”

The Times reported today that “Mr. Bush stood by the raid, saying, ‘People will be treated with respect, but the United States will enforce our law.’” Sure, the raid was legal, but respectful is a bit of a stretch. Last Wednesday, the Globe recounted the “terrifying scene” as hundreds of law enforcement and immigration officers enveloped the factory: “Witnesses said police guarded exits while other officers grabbed some of the fleeing workers and shouted at them to lie on the ground. Several officers drew their handguns.” And while the factory’s owner and three managers were charged and released the same day pending their trial, the workers who could not prove they were in the U.S. legally were loaded onto buses for confinement at the former Fort Devens (nearly 100 miles away).

Finally, the Times dutifully recorded the president’s viewpoint, writing that “Mr. Bush said he disputed ‘conspiracies’ relayed by Mr. Berger that children were taken away from families,” accompanied by this quote: “That’s not the way America operates. We’re a decent, compassionate country. Those are the kind of things we do not do. We believe in families, and we’ll treat people with dignity.”

This strikes us as disingenuous at best. Children were not taken away from their families, but many of their parents have been taken away from them. (For more, see the AP story “Immigration raids split families.”) That is not compassionate, no matter that the workers were illegal immigrants, no matter the president’s rhetoric — and no matter the account given by him or the Times.

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Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.