The circular finger pointing over the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement raid on a New Bedford factory -- and the subsequent separation of parents from children -- has gotten so confusing we may never know the truth. But here's one person's effort at sorting out this mess, which has taken on the trappings of an international incident.
Let's start with the timing. A high profile raid at roughly the same time as George Bush is making a Latin American swing is hardly an accident.
Bush may not have necessarily known from which country the snagged immigrants would come from, but it's a certainty he knew this was going to take place. The fact he was well briefed for an encounter in Guatemala City speaks volumes:
The president was pressed by local reporters to defend his approval of a border fence law and workplace raids in Massachusetts last week that sent hundreds of illegal Central American workers home. Some were forced to leave their U.S.-born children behind.Another sure sign of the political pre-planning was the reaction of Tom Tancredo, the voice of the anti-immigrant right in the House.
Bush said that one answer to the immigration problem is the unfettered commerce embodied in accords such as the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which Guatemala joined last year.
"I also believe most citizens in Guatemala would rather find meaningful jobs at home instead of having to travel to a foreign land to work," Bush said. "
Tancredo, who opposes legal status for illegal immigration and favors a sharp reduction in legal immigration, told college students that the government did the right thing.
"As if it were our fault that they came here illegally,” he said at Thomas More College. ”We are so into blaming America for everything. If it’s a law, it’s a law, There are consequences.”
The Patrick administration insists the feds would not let them accompany ICE agents to New Bedford to tend to the families disrupted by the raid. ICE officials agree it was a law enforcement action, not a social service one.
There are two major problems here. It's hard to decide whether the Department of Social Services or ICE is the most dysfunctional agency. DSS and its commissioner Harry Spence still haven't adequately explained their failings in the death of a South Shore girl whose parents are accused of overdosing.
I'll break that tie in favor of the Patrick administration, largely on the reputation of Public Safety Secretary Kevin Burke, the long-time Essex County DA with a huge pool of credibility. He told the Globe:
"They were very nice, but very vague," Burke said. "We were assured there wouldn't be any problems. . . . Next time, the state will press more for details in the beginning."But communications breakdowns continue to plague this administration. Both Spence and Burke's undersecretary for law enforcement Kurt Schwartz say Spence didn't know about the raid until March 2 deputy -- and was banned from telling any employees on the ground until after the raid began.
But that is severely undercut by the Globe revelation that Patrick's communications director, Nancy Fernandez Mills, spoke before she knew the whole story.
As late as (Tuesday) afternoon... Mills... was insisting that "the governor was not told and did not know the raid was happening until it was going on" and that "DSS did not know about this raid until it was in progress."
Told that, in fact, members of Patrick's Cabinet had briefed him about the operation weeks ago and that Spence had participated in a conference call with ICE the day before the raid -- a fact the commissioner himself acknowledged in yesterday's newspapers -- she reconsidered: "I'd like to retract that statement until I talk to someone who actually knows something about this timeline."
Mills, a former network TV journalist with no experience in the rough and tumble word of political PR, violated the cardinal rule of public relations: the first thing you do is tell the reporter "I'll get back to you."
By asking to "retract" her comment, Mills proved conclusively she is not deep enough within the inner circle. That is Deval Patrick's fault as well as hers for not insisting on total access.
It also brings into stark relief, yet again, that the problems of the Caddy, the drapes and every other PR misstep to date is in part the result of a communications staff that does have what it needs to do the job.
Two clear personnel decisions need to be made now. Harry Spence, no matter his reputation for being able to handle tough challenges, is a liability who needs to go as part of a comprehensive effort to overhaul an agency that has proven itself impervious to overhaul.And Mills needs to take a very public bullet for her boss here. It will take forever, if at all, for her to regain her credibility. She needs to resign.
UPDATE: Now that the Globe has worked out the kinks in boston.com, it's clear this situation is muddier than ever. Deval Patrick and his folks need to learn -- and fast -- how to speak in one voice. My money is still on ICE as the culprit here.
FURTHER UPDATE: The cavalry has arrived. I may actually think about this a bit, although Joe Landolfi is an excellent choice on the media side. And hopefully someone will clarify whether Mills is taking a graceful exit.