In this nation of laws, the Massachusetts criminal justice system is taking a huge hit.
The latest pitched battle between the state’s judges and federal immigration officials goes to the very core of how justice is to be administered here. It’s an issue the feds seem far less interested in than notching another speedy deportation for the Trump administration.
Last week, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants and the chief justice of the trial courts, Paula Carey, in a letter to local immigration officials, called the recent deportation of a Dominican defendant while awaiting trial “an affront to justice.”
They “strongly urged” the acting field director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Todd M. Lyons, “in the interests of justice, to cease the removal of defendants by ICE during the pendency of criminal charges in our state courts without advance notice to the court and the relevant district attorney.”
It wasn’t the first time the justices have made known their displeasure with the way ICE agents and their higher-ups have conducted their operations. Back in October, the justices provided ICE with a list of 15 cases in which deportations had thwarted the criminal justice process.
All of the defendants in question, whether they had posted bail or were required to wear GPS monitoring bracelets, were at some point detained and in ICE custody — where they might have remained until their trial had concluded. ICE contracts with the jails run by Plymouth and Bristol counties to house about 300 detainees.
In all of the cases cited by Gants and Carey, the court found out that the defendants had been deported only after court officials sought their presence for trial.
The most recent case involved Anibal Maldonado, who was awaiting trial on cocaine trafficking charges, released on personal recognizance Dec. 13 but taken into custody by ICE agents that day in the courthouse lockup. When an assistant clerk tried to arrange to get the defendant into court for a Feb. 11 hearing, she was informed he had been deported to the Dominican Republic. The judges noted it will now require the Justice Department and the State Department to act to get the defendant extradited.
The worst instances of justice being denied by a deportation are in cases involving the rape or exploitation of children, like that of Abdulrhman Abduljalil, accused of raping two Weymouth children but deported to Saudi Arabia by ICE in 2017, or Danilo Portugal Ramscheid, arrested on child pornography charges but deported to Brazil last August.
Such cases not only deprive the victims of the justice they deserve, but they also export a possible sexual predator, which may make it more difficult to stop them from offending again.
“Under the state’s Victims’ Rights Bill we have a responsibility to those victims,” said Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins. “We have certain obligations. If ICE comes in and deports people, how are we going to fulfill those? And it does not keep us safer if someone who has been deported sneaks back into our country under a different name.”
It took five years and an extradition proceeding to return Jose Ortega, former head of a youth baseball league, to Boston to face child rape charges after his untimely deportation to the Dominican Republic by ICE.
In fact, Gants and Carey weren’t asking for much — only that defendants “be held in Massachusetts until the completion of the criminal case.”
In response, ICE issued a statement objecting to what they see as state courts and local authorities “[declinining] to honor federal immigration detainers or administrative arrest warrants to provide ICE with information necessary to promote our shared commitment to ensure public safety.”
A case filed last spring by Rollins and Middlesex DA Marian Ryan, among others, contends it is ICE that has interfered with the administration of justice with its efforts to “commandeer the state courts for federal civil immigration purposes.”
US District Court Judge Indira Talwani issued a preliminary injunction last June in that case prohibiting ICE from “civilly arresting parties, witnesses, and others attending Massachusetts courthouses on official business while they are going to, attending, or leaving the courthouse.” It remains in place until a full hearing on the merits of the case.
ICE’s efforts to disrupt state court proceedings and deprive victims of their day in court does nothing to “ensure public safety.” But if the pleas of state judges and prosecutors cannot bring this highly politicized agency to heel, then we should hope the federal court can.
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