A leading immigrant rights group in Greater Boston says it’s received calls from about 10 families of people who were arrested this week in Massachusetts as part of nationwide raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
“Our communities are confronting a crisis,” said Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente, the group that has fielded calls for assistance, in a phone interview Friday. “It’s like a war against our community.”
Montes’s comments came after ICE announced Thursday that the agency had apprehended 50 people across Massachusetts as part of Operation Safe City, a four-day crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities that ended Wednesday.
About two-thirds of the nearly 500 immigrants arrested nationwide are wanted on criminal charges, ICE said. According to figures provided by ICE, 30 of those arrested in Massachusetts had criminal records, and the other 20 did not.
Montes said at least one family who called her office after the raids sought help for a relative arrested in East Boston. That person’s name wasn’t immediately available.
She said that while ICE frequently says it’s targeting gang members and other violent criminals, they are also “detaining people with no criminal convictions, so that’s the problem that we always have.”
US Senator Elizabeth Warren also strongly criticized the raids.
“Let’s be clear: this decision was about going after Massachusetts cities and towns that President Trump doesn’t like,” Warren said in a statement. “Instead of respecting local law enforcement decisions about the best way to protect their communities and Massachusetts court decisions enforcing state law, President Trump is using immigration police to try to force his bigoted, anti-immigration agenda on our state. It won’t work.”
Montes said her group is working to connect those affected families to legal aid for their relatives, who remain in federal custody.
Susan B. Church, an immigration lawyer based in Cambridge, said Friday that “multiple families” have contacted her office as well. Regarding those apprehended, Church wrote in an e-mail, “It seems many were arrested outside courthouses. Which is nothing new.”
Officials did not provide a complete breakdown Thursday of the cities and towns where the Massachusetts immigrants were detained, though ICE did say that one person was an undocumented Indian national in Boston who was convicted of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14 and was required to register as a sex offender.
The local arrests also included a Guatemalan in Woburn who has lawful permanent resident status — a green card — but was convicted of assault and battery of a child under age 14, a Honduran citizen in Brockton who was convicted of assault and battery and intimidating a witness, and a Salvadoran immigrant in Lynn who had been convicted on several counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and was previously deported, according to ICE.
Returning to the United States after deportation is a felony.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh said Friday that he initially found the raid “a little surprising” because he “didn’t know what it was.”
“Then we found out everyone had a criminal record or some type of outstanding warrant, so I guess you can understand that around the country,” Walsh said. “But now you’re hearing mixed reaction around the country. So we’re not sure exactly what it is. I think the government, ICE, needs to be clearer in exactly what they did last night and what it was. Was it people with criminal backgrounds? Was it people with outstanding warrants?”
Walsh said he was also not sure whether ICE was targeting sanctuary cities but said if the agency was doing that, it would be “completely inappropriate.”
Governor Charlie Baker, who has filed a bill that would allow, but not require, state and local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal officials in cases where an immigrant has been convicted of a violent crime, addressed the ICE raids in comments to reporters Friday.
Asked if it was appropriate for federal immigration authorities to target so-called sanctuary cities, the governor said, “Since I don’t know enough about the details about how many of these types of things they do and how often they do them, I don’t really think I’m in a position to speak to that.”
He added, “Law enforcement resources are always stretched and the most effective thing the feds and, frankly, we can do to keep our streets safe is to make sure we’re focused on people who are dangerous criminals who are here illegally.”
Montes, however, said the raids have stoked fear in immigrant communities.
“People are taking pictures from their windows of ICE agents [making arrests] and posting them to Facebook,” she said. “People are scared. People are afraid.”
In a statement Thursday, ICE said the raids “focused on cities and regions where ICE deportation officers are denied access to jails and prisons to interview suspected immigration violators or jurisdictions where ICE detainers are not honored.”
In July, the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that local law enforcement cannot hold a person who is wanted solely for immigration violations, a decision that provided legal support for sanctuary cities in the Commonwealth, such as Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville.
An ICE spokesman said the SJC ruling led to the state’s inclusion among the targeted areas for Operation Safe City. State court officials declined to comment Friday though a spokeswoman.
Citing the SJC ruling, the Boston-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice said Friday in a statement that federal authorities are “punishing us for following the rule of law. Using the full force and strength of federal enforcement to punitively target immigrants in Massachusetts is an extreme abuse of power.”
The Lawyers’ Committee said it had submitted a Freedom of Information Act request with ICE seeking information about Operation Safe City, including all public records referencing or relating to the 498 arrests made; records of any enforcement activities taken against any individuals who were not ultimately arrested; and records referencing or relating to surveillance and detention of arrestees prior to, during, and subsequent to their arrests.
“The blatant targeting of cities and states that do not collaborate with the federal deportation machine reveals the Trump administration’s true motives: to retaliate against anyone who doesn’t help carry out its xenophobic immigration policies,” Rose said. “Attempts to bully state and local law enforcement into violating the constitution is no way to build cooperation between local, state, and federal government.”
Shawn Neudauer, an ICE spokesman, said Thursday that the agency has “always done these kinds of operations historically, for the decades past, including” during the Obama administration.
He noted Friday that all “those arrested were charged with violating US immigration laws.”
But Rose accused the Trump administration of “fear-mongering and draconian deportation tactics” that “erode trust between immigrant families and the law enforcement officials responsible for keeping communities safe. Using human beings as pawns in a cynical political game is cruel, inhumane and unacceptable.”
Rose’s comments were echoed by Eva A. Millona of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
“This is blatant political propaganda,” Millona said Friday in a statement. “The Trump administration wants to intimidate states and local communities into rounding up immigrants for deportation, and they’re willing to ruin hundreds or thousands of lives just to scare and shame us.”