msnbc.com news services
updated 3/7/2007 3:21:18 PM ET 2007-03-07T20:21:18

Dozens of young children were stranded at schools and with baby-sitters after their parents were rounded up by federal authorities who raided a leather goods maker suspected of hiring illegal immigrants, authorities said Wednesday.

About two-thirds of the 500 employees of Michael Bianco Inc., mostly women, were arrested Tuesday by immigration officials for possible deportation as illegal aliens.

As a result, about 100 children were stuck with baby sitters, caretakers and others, said Corinn Williams, director of the Community Economic Development Center of Southeastern Massachusetts.

“We’re continuing to get stories today about infants that were left behind,” she said. “It’s been a widespread humanitarian crisis here in New Bedford.”

The state Department of Social Services was working Wednesday to make sure the children receive proper care. Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie Myers said eight pregnant women were released and women who were sole caregivers of children would also be released, but it takes time to verify people’s accounts.

Managers also arrested
During the federal raid Tuesday, company owner Francesco Insolia, 50, and three top managers were arrested. Authorities allege Insolia oversaw “sweatshop” conditions so he could meet the demands of $91 million in U.S. military contracts.

U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan accused Insolia of exploiting the immigrants to maximize his profits on the military contracts for production of backpacks and safety vests for soldiers. A fifth person was arrested on charges of helping illegals obtain fake identification.

Investigators described dingy conditions and said the illegal workers faced onerous fines, such as a $20 charge for talking while working and spending more than two minutes in the bathroom.

“They were given no options. It’s either here, or the risk of no income at all,” U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan said, comparing the plant to sweatshops from the early 1900s. “Clearly, they were exploited because of the fact they were here illegally.”

Insolia’s lawyer, Inga Bernstein, said: “The whole story will come out, and at that point it will be a very different scenario.”

Michael Bianco Inc., founded in 1985, specialized in manufacturing high-end leather goods for retailers including Coach Inc. and Timberland Co. before landing a $9.4 million military contract in 2003 to make survival vests.

The immigrants had been making leather goods, including vests, grenade pouches and backpacks for soldiers in Iraq, and are now being held at a former Army base near the town of New Bedford where they were working, officials said.

An Army spokesman did not return a call seeking comment about the status of the contracts.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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