After Sept. 11, immigration officials began cracking down on undocumented workers in the name of homeland security. Immigration advocates harshly criticize the enforcement, saying it unfairly separates families from their children — many of whom were born in the U.S.
When hundreds of federal immigration agents descended on the Bianco leather goods plant in New Bedford, Mass., this month, 360 immigrants were arrested, many of them working mothers.
New Bedford is the latest in a series of workplace enforcement raids nationwide, which netted more than 3,600 illegal immigrants since last year. More than 1,100 were arrested at IFCO pallet plants in 26 states, some 1,282 at Swift meatpacking plants in six states.
With about 95 percent detained facing deportation, immigrant advocates say these raids are tearing families apart — families like Anna's. Her arrest in New Bedford meant three days in detention and away from her U.S.-born son Diego.
Although he was with his father, Anna was still terrified she would never see him again.
In communities like New Bedford, people have come out to show support for families affected by the raids. At one church we visited, they have left donations of food and clothing.
Immigration authorities insist the arrests — up 750 percent in the past four years — are mandated by law and are conducted as humanely as possible.
"We want to ensure the safety of all children out there, and we want to ensure that they are not left without a sole caregiver," says John Torres, director of detention for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE.
"If ICE is doing their job according to the law, it is incredibly clear that we need to change the law," says Ali Noorani, an immigrant advocate with Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy.
Meanwhile, with Anna due in immigration court next month, her family, like so many others, is afraid they'll be separated again by immigration law that could force her to leave the country they now call home.