Advocates say Boston’s policies don’t do enough to keep police out of immigration matters
As local officials seek to build Boston’s reputation as welcoming to immigrants, some advocates are calling on the city to follow the lead of other municipalities and do more to keep local law enforcement from collaborating with federal officials on deportations.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh and other officials have recently sought to strengthen the 2014 Trust Act, which sets limits for police cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
They say that the parameters are vital because President Trump has threatened to round up those in the country illegally — including with ICE raids this weekend in at least 10 cities.
“Boston will not be helpful in it, the Police Department will not be helpful in it,” said Walsh, who noted Thursday evening that Boston is not on the list of cities targeted for raids on Sunday.
But advocates have argued Walsh’s proposal to revise the Trust Act does not go far enough.
According to the advocates, the new proposal from Walsh and City Councilor Josh Zakim is too broad and would still fall short of preventing a recent, controversial example of the Boston police communicating with ICE officials about a man’s immigration status, which led to his detention.
The immigrant rights advocates cite, for example, Somerville, which last month passed an ordinance intended to prohibit police from assisting federal authorities in any immigration matters.
It also authorizes police to issue citations for relatively minor offenses, such as driving without a license, so that immigrants can avoid going to court.
Municipalities across the state, from Springfield to Lowell, have also implemented laws in recent years with more specific language prohibiting police cooperation in immigration matters.
“Major cities and states are understanding that [collaboration with ICE] actually undermines public safety, and doesn’t serve anyone, so they’re not participating in immigration enforcement,” said Amy Grunder, director of legislative affairs for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
Last month, Zakim and Walsh, who collaborated on the original 2014 Trust Act, proposed a new version that’s intended to more clearly define the limits on police cooperation in immigration matters.
It would, for instance, prevent police from providing personal information regarding a person’s date of release from city custody to ICE solely for the purpose of enforcing immigration laws, which are civil in nature.
The council is slated to hold a hearing on the proposal, which would need the approval of the council and the mayor before becoming law.
“I welcome constructive voices to this discussion. That’s, from my perspective, the best way to legislate,” Zakim said. “That’s always something we look to, whether it’s a civil rights bill like this, or something on transportation, or the environment.”
The debate comes amid a recent attempt by Walsh to travel to the southern border to see how the federal government has been processing refugees and asylum seekers at detention centers. He said federal immigration officials limited the trip to mayors of cities near the border, but he hopes to travel there soon.
“A lot of folks make their way into Massachusetts, and into Boston,” Walsh said, noting that 20 percent of the city’s residents are foreign-born.
Laura Rótolo, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, praised the effort to strengthen the Trust Act but said the city can still do more. Though Boston’s ordinance, as well as the proposal, generally dissuades police from engaging in immigration matters, there are several loopholes and exemptions that have been exploited, she said.
The proposal, for instance, would exempt police in matters involving an immigrant who re-enters the country following deportation — a federal rather than a local or state crime.
“We’re hoping Boston police would not be going around enforcing federal immigration law,” she said. “I think it undermines the spirit of the rest of the act.”
She also said the new version would do little to make the Police Department transparent and accountable to the law: She cited cases in which Boston police reported an immigrant’s questionable gang ties to ICE, leading to the immigrant’s detention for deportation.
The most recent example of Boston police cooperating with ICE, first reported in February by WBUR, was disclosed in a lawsuit brought by the Trump administration. The lawsuit alleged that the head of Boston-based Tara Construction reported the immigration status of a worker to a Boston detective, a relative, hoping that doing so would lead to the man’s deportation.
The detective, Sergeant Detective Gregory Gallagher, alerted an ICE agent about the man’s status, as well as the time the man would be picking up his check from work. Jose Martin Paz Flores was then apprehended by ICE, while he was with his young son.
At a testy City Council hearing in April, Police Commissioner William Gross defended Gallagher, saying there were suspicions that Flores had committed identity fraud. He said his information was then turned over to ICE because there was a federal warrant for his deportation.
But Audrey Richardson, an attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services who represents Flores as a witness in the workers compensation lawsuit against Tara Construction, said the very concept of a Trust Act is to prevent that type of cooperation in immigration matters.
She said a new law could go further to spell out that intent, and deter what she called Tara Construction’s use of Boston police to retaliate against Flores. He had been living in the country for nearly 20 years, with no criminal history. He is now living in the country with legal authorization and is seeking permanent residency status.
“There’s absolutely nothing in the record that justifies what happened, and it was a real breach of the trust the community had with the police, and with the city,” she said, “and to ensure that the breach can be overcome, or fixed, we really need a strong proposal that ensures nothing like that can happen again.”