City councilors said Tuesday that they will reexamine the Boston Trust Act, which is meant to keep local police from working with federal immigration on deportations, amid the Trump administration’s crackdown and concerns that Boston police were used in that effort.
In a testy City Council hearing, Police Commissioner William Gross defended the department’s role in a recent incident involving federal immigration authorities, and said police would also work with councilors on a policy that provides public safety to all Bostonians.
“The overarching goal is to make sure that no matter where you’re from, that you feel safe in the Commonwealth, and if you feel victimized, we should be working together,” Gross said.
City Councilor Josh Zakim, the lead sponsor of the original Boston Trust Act in 2014, said he may propose changes to the law, pointing out that other communities, such as the state of California, more explicitly prohibit local police from sharing immigration information with federal authorities unless ordered, for instance, by a court.
Boston’s ordinance dissuades police from engaging in deportation matters, and immigration advocates have previously raised concerns about loopholes.
“When we passed the Trust Act, it was a different world,” Zakim said. Although he acknowledged that the City Council has no authority to contest the Trump administration’s deportation policies, “we can make sure. . . city resources are not being used for immigration enforcement.”
The review comes amid concerns that Boston police notified Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents of the whereabouts of a man who was wanted for deportation, and who was ultimately arrested by ICE agents after he went to his worksite at a construction company.
The allegation, first reported by WBUR of Boston, was disclosed in a federal court complaint that the US Department of Labor filed in February accusing a South Boston company, Tara Construction, of retaliating against the worker – who had been badly injured on the job and was seeking workers’ compensation – by having him deported, with help from Boston police.
The CEO of Tara Construction, Pedro Pirez, had told a Boston police detective, a relative, that he suspected the employee may have given him a false name, though the federal complaint alleges the concern was a pretext to having the employee deported.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Gross became defensive at times as he sought to argue that the worker, Jose Martin Paz Flores, had been under investigation for stealing the identity of another immigrant with a green card. He said that information was relayed to ICE agents who work with Boston police on homeland security matters.
“I don’t care where you’re from, if you have a nexus to criminal conduct, you will be investigated,” Gross told councilors. Paz, who fled Honduras 18 years ago, had been ordered deported in 2002 after he missed an immigration hearing.
City Councilor Lydia Edwards questioned, however, why Sergeant Detective Gregory Gallagher had also notified ICE agents when Flores would be picking up payments from the employer, a tip that led to Flores’s arrest.
Gross said Tuesday that Flores had a warrant for his deportation, so police complied with the warrant. He said he could not comment further on Flores’s criminal record, citing privacy laws. However, Flores was never charged with a state or local crime related to identity theft. The warrant for deportation is a civil matter, unrelated to any crimes.
Flores, who also testified before the council, said he was injured while working and was picking up benefits from his employer when he was arrested, with his young son in the car. He had been living in the country for 20 years, and had no criminal record.
“Since that moment my life has been difficult in every sense,” he said through an interpreter.
Immigration advocates argued that Boston police broke the spirit of the Trust Act by essentially collaborating in a civil deportation proceeding, when no warrant for criminal charges was at play.
“When they’re working hand in hand to find someone to deport, that is wholly inconsistent with the spirit of the Trust Act, and with the commitment Boston police have made,” said Laura Rótolo, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
Edwards questioned whether Gallagher, and Boston police, had been “used” by Tara Construction in the effort to deny workers’ compensation benefits.
“I think it’s offensive, even to you, that you were used,” Edwards said. “Apparently we have to change the Trust Act to make it more trustworthy, to make sure you were not used in the process.”