Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared in Boston Thursday to announce identity fraud charges against 25 foreign nationals in Massachusetts, the latest arrests in the Trump administration’s ongoing crackdown against immigrants who are in the country illegally.
The enforcement sweep followed an investigation, dubbed “Double Trouble,” that targeted a scheme to steal the identities of American citizens — primarily Puerto Ricans — for the purpose of obtaining state identification cards and federal benefits such as Medicaid and public housing subsidies, federal prosecutors said.
“These government programs are intended to help the poor, the elderly, American citizens, not those who are trespassing in the country,” Sessions said at a news conference at the federal courthouse in Boston. “This kind of fraud is a theft from our seniors, a theft from our taxpayers, and a theft from the needy. A theft from America.”
Sessions said that some of the people whose identities were stolen had lost their homes to Hurricane Maria last year.
Most of those charged were from the Dominican Republic, and 21 were living in the United States illegally, officials said. Some had a criminal history, including one man who had been convicted of murder.
Jose Lopez Rosado, a 53-year-old who had been living in Worcester and was already in state custody on other charges, was serving a 40-year sentence for murder when he escaped from a Puerto Rican prison in 1994.
Sessions, the nation’s top law enforcement official, stood alongside the US attorney for Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, who praised the attorney general as a leader who has “rededicated the Department of Justice to the rule of law.”
The announcement of the arrests came on the day of the court-imposed deadline to reunite migrant families who had been forcibly separated at the US-Mexico border, a highly criticized strategy by the Trump administration to curb illegal immigration.
Federal prosecutors are expected to provide a final tally of how many families have been reunified.
On Thursday, advocates for immigrants said the government would be unable to meet the court deadline because it had deemed 914 children “ineligible” for reunification. Advocates said that is because the parents of more than half of those children have been deported.
Sessions did not address the deadline at Thursday’s news conference, which was followed by a brief session with reporters that was cut off after five questions.
Instead, he focused his remarks on the fraud crackdown and other recent arrests of undocumented immigrants, including the apprehension of a Dominican man who had been living in Lynn and was wanted by Dominican authorities for allegedly murdering his wife.
Lelling’s office had just received the go-ahead to hire five more prosecutors, Sessions added.
“I’m excited to see this office thrive,” Sessions said. “The public servants in this office are doing great work.”
Sessions also mentioned the high rate of fentanyl-related deaths in New England, appearing to draw a link between the fatal overdoses and the presence of undocumented immigrants.
Sessions has drawn an outcry for saying that so-called sanctuary cities like Lawrence have protected fentanyl dealers.
There is no official definition of a sanctuary city, but the term usually refers to municipalities that forbid their police from helping federal authorities detain and deport immigrants. In response, Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera has threatened to sue Sessions for libel.
On Thursday, Sessions was asked about the reaction to his comments.
“I can’t imagine why a city, or a county or a state, would think that someone who enters the country illegally, who is subject to be being deported for that alone, is somehow to be protected,” he said. “Anyone who enters the country unlawfully and commits a crime is a crime that never ever should have occurred because they shouldn’t have been here to begin with.”
Sessions’s appearance drew a small group of protesters to the courthouse.
Rachel Yousman, a 21-year-old senior at Mount Holyoke College working as an intern at NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, rushed to the courthouse with fellow interns Elizabeth Allen, 18, and Julia Leconte, 19, after seeing a message on Twitter about Sessions’s appearance.
They held signs that read “The pilgrims were undocumented” and “Immigrants’s rights are women’s rights.”
“If we don’t stand up for the most vulnerable among us, then what are we even doing?” Yousman said.