Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is asking questions of his own police department in the wake of a U.S. Department of Labor lawsuit filed last week in Boston's federal court.
Two Boston police detectives are cited in the suit, which says the police cooperated with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the arrest of a construction worker. The suit alleges Boston-based Tara Construction retaliated against Jose Martin Paz Flores, who is not a legal resident of the United States, after Paz filed a workers' compensation claim. Immigrants in the country illegally are, under Massachusetts law, nearly always entitled to the same workers' comp benefits as U.S. citizens. The company did not have workers' compensation insurance when Paz was injured on the job.
Paz was arrested in 2017 by ICE officials when he was leaving a meeting at the Tara Construction offices. His then-2-year-old son was in the car with him.
Federal labor officials say two Boston police detectives were involved with Paz's arrest by ICE, and the suit mentions a "joint ICE/Boston Police Department task force." The ACLU of Massachusetts has filed a public records request with the city asking for more information on the so-called task force.
Attorneys for Paz say he was never charged with a crime in this matter.
WBUR sat down with Mayor Walsh in his office on Thursday to discuss the incident and what it tells us about the way information is shared between Boston police and federal immigration officials. Here are Walsh's responses, lightly edited for clarity.
On The Existence Of A 'Joint ICE/Boston Police Department Task Force'
I mean, I think that's a little broad. So, when we talk about a joint task force between ICE and Boston Police Department, that relationship goes back 10 years. I don't think it's around this particular case. There's a lot of relationships that the Boston Police Department have with ICE, with the federal government, FBI, U.S. attorney's office. So, that's not uncommon to have here. I think what raises the alert of a lot of folks right now is that in the times that we're living in today, with this anti-immigrant sentiment going on in the country, coming out of the White House, quite honestly, I think that raises a lot of the concerns that people have.
On Communication Between Boston Police, ICE And The Mayor's Office
Some of the investigations are very sensitive. If there is some type of gang activity, MS-13 or 18th Street gang, I'll find out usually the day before. But I depend on my police commissioner to make sure that the proper procedures are followed. I make it very clear in Boston that we're not going to be turning people over for misdemeanors and things like that, as far as working with ICE on those cases. That's for the federal authorities to figure out and do their job if they want. This particular case goes back to 2017 and we're trying to work the pieces in together, but it's somewhat unclear at this point still where we are in this particular case.
On The Information Walsh Is Seeking From Boston Police
We want to make sure that if we're going to do investigations on undocumented immigrants, we want to make sure there is a felony involved. So, Commissioner [William] Gross is trying to piece this together. I've made it perfectly clear: Boston Police Department officers are not ICE officials. Our job should not be enforcing immigration laws for the federal government. If they want to come in and enforce federal law, let them come in and enforce federal law. It's not our job. In saying that, if somebody commits a serious crime — a homicide, or somebody commits a rape or a serious felony — we will absolutely contact the authorities that are necessary.
On Instructions Provided To Boston Police About Cooperating With ICE
That's something that you'd probably have to ask the commissioner. I think that in 2016, the White House came down with the bans and all the things they came down with at the time. [Then-]Commissioner [William] Evans, at the time, was very clear that Boston police are not ICE officials. Commissioner Gross has kept that policy moving forward. I think that spending resources on somebody who allegedly might have had a workers' comp claim or not had a workers' comp claim, is not something that I feel, personally, rises to the level of as much police action and effort, quite honestly.
On Trust Within Immigrant Communities In The Wake Of This Case
I think what will happen here is that it will put this conversation back on the front page again and then allow us to reinstate [sic] how we feel about immigrants in our community. I am certainly not thrilled about the situation — being interviewed right now over this case — in the sense of not fully understanding the rationale behind it or the reason behind it. But I want people to know that we are a city of immigrants. This demonizing immigrants is wrong, and if we want to deal with the issue of immigration, rather than scaring people on the streets and pulling people out of cars with their 2-year-old kids in the car, we should be coming up with some policies on how do we deal with immigration, long-term.
This segment aired on March 8, 2019.