Massachusetts Sanctuary Policies Freed Hundreds of Criminal Aliens

By Jessica Vaughan | July 19, 2018 | 12:13pm EDT

A report prepared by ICE's Boston field office illustrates the nature of ICE's criminal alien caseload in that state, and reveals the public safety problems created by court-imposed and locally adopted sanctuary policies. According to the report, over a 10-week period in the spring of 2018, 456 deportable criminal aliens were arrested in Massachusetts for a wide variety of state crimes. However, ICE was able to get custody of only about half of these criminal aliens, either because local agencies did not honor ICE's detainers or otherwise cooperate with ICE, or because the local agency released the criminal aliens before ICE could issue a detainer. The report provides several chilling examples of offenders who were freed by local authorities, including some who had committed horrific crimes, and including some who were released in Lawrence, Mass., a sanctuary city that has drawn attention for its role as a hub for opioid distribution in New England.

Over the period studied (March 19 to May 30, 2018), Boston ICE officers identified 456 aliens who were arrested on state or local charges and who were determined to be "immediately amenable" to ICE arrest. These "hits" resulted from the electronic sharing of fingerprints through the Secure Communities program, and correspond to the subset of aliens that ICE can identify as likely deportable, such as those lacking legal status, violating legal status, fugitives, or prior deportees. It does not include those who, for example, have not yet been convicted of a crime that might make them deportable, such as green card holders awaiting trial. Nor does it include illegal alien suspects who have never been in contact with immigration authorities and whose fingerprints therefore are not in DHS databases.

ICE responded to the 456 hits in the following ways:

  • 216 cases resulted in the issuance of an ICE detainer and arrest warrant. These aliens had committed crimes including rape, assault, firearms possession, drug distribution and trafficking, drug possession, OUI, domestic violence, property crimes, and motor vehicle offenses. But the report states that in about half of these cases, the local jails will release aliens on bail without notification to ICE, and the aliens are back on the streets.
  • 130 of the aliens were released from custody before ICE could act. These cases were referred to ICE fugitive teams.
  • 110 of the cases were referred to the ICE Criminal Alien Program (CAP) officers, who arrest incarcerated aliens in local jails.

These figures demonstrate the significant adverse effect of state and local sanctuary policies on ICE's ability to remove criminal aliens. The sum of 110 aliens referred to the CAP program and half of the 216 who were subject to detainers that were honored (108) is a total of 218 criminal aliens out of 456. This is only about 48 percent of all deportable criminal aliens that ICE was aware of, that could be readily apprehended and put on the path to removal.

That's a problem for public safety. Yesterday, in a speech on combating the opioid epidemic, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called out Lawrence, Mass., one of the most egregious of the state's sanctuary cities, noting that the policies protect the criminal alien drug traffickers who supply opioids in the region. Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera called this a "fabrication" and said that he is considering suing the attorney general for libel. He said that the city notifies ICE of every criminal alien. Rivera grossly misrepresented the city's ordinance, which prohibits Lawrence police officers from notifying ICE about any criminal aliens.


The ICE report gives nine examples of criminal aliens who were set free by sanctuary policies. Among them:

  • In April 2017, a citizen of the Dominican Republic who had been previously deported after convictions for violent and drug crimes was arrested for the rape of a Boston College student who was his Uber passenger. Despite an ICE detainer and discussion of his deportability in court, the judge granted bail of $2,500 and allowed the alien to be released and abscond without notice to ICE. He is still at large.
  • In December 2017 a citizen of Guatemala was arrested in Lynn, Mass., for armed assault to murder and other charges, but was released by the Essex County sheriff despite an ICE detainer and arrest warrant. He was later located by Boston ICE officers.
  • In January 2018, the Worcester, Mass., district court released two citizens of the Dominican Republic who had been arrested for possession with intent to distribute heroin and cocaine, despite ICE detainers. Both are still at large.
  • In February 2018, a citizen of Guatemala who was in removal proceedings was arrested for armed robbery in Lawrence, Mass., but released by the court, and remains at large. Also in February, the same court released another alien identified as a fugitive, who had been arrested for domestic violence. This alien also remains at large.
  • In April 2018, a visa overstayer from Ghana was arrested and charged with raping his Uber passenger. Prior to transferring the man to the county jail, the Quincy District Court officers refused to allow ICE officers to speak with him, and did not forward the ICE detainer and arrest warrant to the county jail. The suspect was later released (without notifying ICE), and was asked to return to surrender his passport, but instead he departed for Ghana the next day.
  • In May 2018, a previously deported alien from El Salvador slashed the throat of a woman in Chelsea, Mass. The Chelsea police identified the suspect as an illegal alien, but declined to contact ICE. Instead, the U.S. Marshals contacted ICE to obtain information on the suspect and were then able to prepare a warrant for assault with intent to murder and subsequently arrested the suspect in Maryland.

The report also provides a breakdown of the immigration status of the criminal aliens identified. These statistics show that ICE issued detainers on less than half the removable aliens identified by Secure Communities fingerprint-matching (216 out of 456). Clearly, the program is far from the overzealous detention dragnet that the program's critics claim it is.

ICE was most likely to issue a detainer in the case of criminals who were prior deportees, violating terms of their release, or who had already been ordered removed by an immigration judge. ICE was less likely to file a detainer seeking custody in the case of criminal aliens who had yet to face immigration court proceedings.

A conference committee of six Massachusetts legislators is currently locked in discussions to resolve differences in the annual state budget bill, which this year includes language passed in the Senate that would impose an extreme sanctuary policy statewide, including prohibiting law enforcement agencies from honoring ICE detainers and prohibiting use of any local resources to cooperate with ICE. Lawmakers have been unable to agree on language needed to respond to a 2017 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision prohibiting compliance with ICE detainers.

Governor Charlie Baker has pledged to use his line-item veto to block the state senate sanctuary provision, but could also try to insert his own sanctuary-lite proposal that would allow detainers to be honored only in the most serious criminal cases, and only for 12 hours, which is an unreasonably short period for ICE to act. Baker's proposal is a misguided attempt to split the difference between the demands of extreme sanctuary proponents and full cooperation with ICE, which is standard and prudent law enforcement practice in most of the United States. But this is not a split-the-difference issue. State and local law enforcement agencies must be permitted to cooperate with ICE all the time, just as they do with all other state and federal law enforcement agencies. It is not up to state lawmakers to micromanage or second-guess which criminal aliens will be subject to immigration enforcement; that is an infringement on the federal government's authority. More importantly, as painfully illustrated by ICE's report, such interference with immigration enforcement results in the unnecessary release of criminal aliens who pose a threat to the public, and who should be sent back to their home countries instead of back to our communities.

Jessica M. Vaughan is Director of Policy Studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a research institute in Washington DC.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by the Center for Immigration Studies.

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