Incoming Boston ICE Chief: Former Head Ordered Officers To Prioritize Arrests At Immigration Interviews

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The John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston. (Stephan Savoia/AP)
The John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse in Boston. (Stephan Savoia/AP)

A federal judge in Boston is considering whether to continue hearings into the arrests of immigrants at their scheduled interviews with immigration officials.

The interviews were usually so Americans and their spouses could prove that their marriages were legitimate.

Three days of hearings by Judge Mark Wolf have revealed that in New England, immigrants who had committed no crimes other than being in the country illegally were being targeted when they showed up for their interviews.

The incoming acting director of ICE's Boston field office testified Wednesday that the practice began after an executive order from President Trump and continued until February. That's when Thomas Brophy became the office's acting director.

The president's order prioritized the arrest of all people who had been subject to a final order of removal from the country, whether or not they posed a danger to public safety or national security.

Incoming Boston director Todd Lyons testified that the previous director responded by telling officers that their priority should be to arrest immigrants at the offices of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, whenever possible. According to Lyons, the former director, Christopher Cronin, did not want ICE agents to make arrests in the community, in part because it would create tense situations.

When Brophy took over, he ordered that the focus return to arresting immigrants who pose a danger to public safety or national security.

Lyons, who takes over next month, told the court Wednesday he would continue that focus.

"The primary goal of immigration laws," Lyons said, "is to focus on the worst of the worst and public safety."

Where immigrants were being arrested was not the only problem. It's also what happened afterwards.

Brophy, the current acting director, admitted ICE has broken the law in how it handled some detainees. He submitted the names of six immigrants who had been illegally detained in Massachusetts and Rhode Island in January.

But the number could be higher.

Lyons testified that an audit of the Boston bureau revealed that out of 650 to 700 detainees, immigrants had been denied their rights in about 40 cases. They had not been given due notice to prepare for reviews of their detentions, or their lawyers had not been notified. Both are violations of ICE regulations, and therefore, Wolf has ruled, in violation of the law.

The testimony from ICE officials about how their agency had operated in Boston comes as vindication for immigrants who have been detained at marriage interviews.

"Eveything that has happened has confirmed that what was done to our clients was wrong and that it should never happen again," said Matthew Segal, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. "What we've been after in these hearings is getting to the truth of what happened and figuring out a way to make sure that it won't be repeated."

For the second day in a row, Wolf had a video played of a reunion between one of Segal's clients and her 10-year-old son after she spent more than three months behind bars. He then asked the deputy director of the Boston ICE office, James Rutherford, how he felt when he first saw it.

"It's heartbreaking," Rutherford said.

One detainee was in court Wednesday. Like previous detainees throughout these hearings, he was shackled. Judge Wolf apparently had not noticed until Wednesday. Wolf objected to the detainee being kept in shackles.

"I've had murderers in the courtroom, and they're not shackled," Wolf said. "Frank Salemme wasn't shackled. Stevie Flemmi wasn't shackled. Gary Sampson wasn't shackled," Wolf said, referring to a Mafia family boss, an associate of James "Whitey" Bulger and a convicted serial killer who has been sentenced to death.

Last week, the detained immigrant, Edjann Dos Santos, was married in the Suffolk County House of Corrections. On Wednesday, Brophy ordered him released.

"It's like you are rebirth [sic] again," Dos Santos said. "You see everything. It's an amazing feeling. Freedom, something that was taken away from you, you just got it back. It's really good."

Wolf has said that every time detainees appear in federal court, they are released.

These hearings are to determine whether he should issue an order forbidding ICE from keeping immigrants in detention without due process.

In a statement Thursday, an ICE spokesman said:

Unfortunately, due to the fact that the hearing before Judge Wolf is still in active litigation, I am precluded from offering specific responses to your questions on issues raised in the hearing and will have to let the comments from agency representatives on the record speak for themselves.

This article was originally published on May 24, 2018.

This segment aired on May 24, 2018.


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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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