By  on March 14, 2007

WASHINGTON — A Department of Homeland Security raid at a Massachusetts leather goods company that resulted in the detainment of hundreds of immigrant workers has drawn fire from Sen. Edward Kennedy (D., Mass.).

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Kennedy said the raid at Michael Bianco Inc., in New Bedford, Mass., was "abusive" and asked Chertoff to meet with the state's congressional delegation this week, release the names of the detainees and transport them to Massachusetts from Texas, where many were being processed for deportation.

Officials said 361 workers were determined to be in the U.S. illegally, and 138 were released after being found to be either U.S. citizens or legal residents.

"I'm appalled at the insensitivity of the officials at [Immi­gration & Customs Enforcement]…to anticipate the far-reaching consequences of the raid," Kennedy wrote. "ICE turned its effort to end unauthorized employment and illegal immigration into a spectacle in which the results are separated families, silent transfers in the middle of the night, traumatized children and hundreds of people stranded without proper legal representation."

Authorities raided the factory last week and arrested the owner of the company and three managers on charges in connection with the alleged hiring of illegal immigrants. A fourth person was arrested on charges that he provided fraudulent identification documents to the workers.

"Egregious hiring practices, widespread use of fraudulent documents and blatant disregard for the rule of law made this case a priority," Julie L. Myers, assistant secretary of Homeland Security, said in a statement.

President Bush came under fire for the raid Monday during his visit to Guatemala, where President Oscar Berger criticized him publicly.

Michael Bianco's Web site states that the company was established in 1985 and has manufactured products for brands such as Coach, Fossil, G.H. Bass, Mark Cross, Rockport and Timberland. The company produces handbags, travel bags, backpacks, business cases and travel accessories.

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