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Mass. judges ask ICE to stop deporting defendants awaiting trial without advance notice

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Ralph D. Gants, in 2014.
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Ralph D. Gants, in 2014.Matthew J. Lee

In the latest clash between Massachusetts authorities and federal immigration officials, two of the state’s top judges are asking ICE to stop deporting criminal defendants who are awaiting trial in the state’s superior courts without advance notice.

Ralph D. Gants, chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, and Paula M. Carey, the state trial court’s chief justice, sent a letter Thursday, citing the case of Anibal Maldonado, a defendant who was awaiting trial in Middlesex Superior Court on cocaine trafficking charges.

The letter, to Todd M. Lyons, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s acting field office director for enforcement and removal operations in Boston, came days after ICE publicized several immigration fugitives who were released in the state “due to sanctuary policies that promote non-cooperation with federal immigration authorities.”

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Such noncooperation has included Massachusetts courts that have allegedly ignored or not honored ICE detainers, immigration authorities have said. Detainers are requests from federal authorities for law enforcement to hold an individual.

ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer said Thursday that the agency "routinely responds to official correspondence via official channels, and will address the matter with the appropriate state officials.”

The letter followed the Trump administration’s decision to send border patrol agents to Boston and other so-called sanctuary cities in coming weeks to support immigration enforcement. That move was condemned by local officials and advocates, who late last week called it an intimidation tactic that could harm public safety.

Maldonado, the defendant mentioned in Thursday’s the letter, appeared in court Dec. 13 and was released on personal recognizance. However, before he left the courthouse, he was taken into custody by ICE in the building’s lockup area. Per a trial court policy, court officers allowed ICE officials into the lockup area “and neither assisted nor obstructed them,” the judges wrote.

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Late last month, an assistant clerk called ICE to get information so that Maldonado could be present for a Feb. 11 hearing. The clerk was told that ICE had deported Maldonado to the Dominican Republic, and a warrant was issued for his arrest.

“Now, if the district attorney wishes to pursue this prosecution, she must seek the assistance of the Department of Justice and the Department of State to extradite the defendant back to Massachusetts from the Dominican Republic,” wrote Gants and Carey.

The judges hoped that Maldonado’s deportation is “a departure from ICE policy rather than consistent with it.”

“It is certainly an affront to justice,” they said. “We reiterate our request for written confirmation that ICE will cease its practice of removing state criminal defendants pending trial without advance notice to the court and the relevant district attorney.”

The judges said they had sent Lyons’s predecessor, Marcos Charles, a letter in October identifying 13 Superior Court cases in which defendants who had been indicted for felonies were removed from the United States by ICE while they were awaiting trial “without the knowledge of the court and, as far as we know, without the knowledge of the relevant district attorney.”

Since then, the judges have yet to get a reply from Charles or Lyonsm they said. Until the Maldonado case, Gants and Carey said they had not learned of any new instances of such pretrial deportations for Superior Court defendants.

Neudauer said people in ICE custody may be released to local authorities to face criminal prosecution and that the agency considers such requests from state officials on a case-by-case basis. Such agreements stipulate that the defendant will be returned to ICE custody at the end of the criminal proceedings, he said.

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In a statement Friday, ICE said that because of “sanctuary policies,” state courts and local authorities “decline to honor federal immigration detainers or administrative arrest warrants or to provide ICE with information necessary to promote our shared commitment to ensure public safety.”

ICE highlighted multiple instances of state courts allegedly either ignoring or not honoring ICE detainers.

Since that announcement, two arrests have been made of “immigration fugitives with serious criminal charges or histories,” according to the agency. One was of Edson Martins, 38, a Cape Verdean citizen arrested on charges of threatening to bomb/hijack, assault with a dangerous weapon, and multiple drunken driving charges, the agency said. An ICE detainer and warrant for Martins was not honored by a court in Brockton, according to the agency.

A Colombian citizen, Hector Garcia-Rios, was also arrested by ICE in recent days. Immigration authorities alleged that Chelsea District Court ignored an ICE detainer and arrest warrant for Garcia-Rios, who was arrested in October on charges of assault with intent to rape and indecent assault and battery on a person over age 14. ICE said he was released Nov. 4.



Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.