Headlines from the sensational 2007 New Bedford factory raid are gone, but the impact is still being felt by some of the 361 allegedly illegal workers detained by federal authorities that day. The owner of the Michael Bianco leather factory pleaded guilty in 2008 to hiring illegal immigrants and was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison.
While he was the real target of the raid, it was the treatment of the illegal workers who were taken into custody that caught the nation's attention.
Among them was Vilma Perez, a native of Guatemala. Her daughter was eight months old at the time.
“They started separating men from women. They were some pregnant women who fainted right away,” Perez said through a translator.
Perez spent a night in custody before the government released her because she was a nursing mother. Perez arrived in New Bedford 12 years ago after sneaking over the Mexican border.
She's allowed to remain here while she fights to stay in this country permanently.
“For my daughter I would love to stay here,” she said.
“Why didn’t you come into the country legally?” asked FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet.
“It's a very difficult and very expensive process and if you don't have the money to pay for it, then you can't go in the legal way,” she replied.
Otoniel Riz was also working at the now-empty New Bedford factory. He was in custody in Texas for eight months and is now back in New Bedford after getting a special visa for illegal immigrants who have been victims of violent crime. Riz was stabbed in 2003.
“I’m not a criminal. I work here,” Riz said.
“Some people say if you’re not here legally, you shouldn’t be here at all. How do you respond to that?” asked FOX Undercover’s Beaudet.
“Sometimes they don’t understand that this is a country built on immigrants,” Riz replied.
An advocate who works with the people who were detained says the raid made illegal immigrants realize they could be deported, and that fear of being kicked out of the country remains very real for them even today, three years after the raid.