After tensions arose surrounding the immigration arrest of a worker injured on the job, the Boston City Council is considering whether to strengthen an act that prohibits the city's police from detaining someone solely based on a request from federal immigration officials.
Immigrants and advocates filled the council chamber Tuesday alongside members of the Boston Police Department, all hoping to better understand the incident.
Jose Martin Paz Flores was working for Tara Construction in 2017 when he fell from a ladder at a job site and broke his leg. Shortly after filing a workers' compensation claim, Paz Flores was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Tara Construction did not have workers' comp insurance at the time of the accident.
Boston police later confirmed its officers were involved in coordinating that arrest and helping verify the identity of Paz Flores.
Police Commissioner William Gross came to the hearing ready to defend his department.
"I thank you for inviting us here to shed light on that and educate people because I just think that the BPD was held in a bad light," Gross said. "We did our job. We did nothing wrong."
Gross maintained a somewhat defensive tone for much of the hearing, insisting repeatedly that BPD abides by the city's Trust Act -- the ordinance passed in 2014 prohibiting Boston police from detaining undocumented immigrants solely at the request of ICE. Other cities refer to similar ordinances as so-called "Sanctuary City" policies.
Councilor Josh Zakim, who called the hearing, said now is the time to reevaluate the strength of the ordinance.
"This president has just done a purge of his Homeland Security Department because they're not tough enough on immigration," Zakim said. "And that is going to be felt in cities like Boston."
To better understand where to strengthen the Trust Act, city councilors wanted to drill down into the details of Paz Flores' arrest.
Councilor Lydia Edwards said while she didn't believe any city officials involved in this case violated the Trust Act, she questions why, in addition to working to confirm Paz Flores' identity, did Boston police then help coordinate his ICE arrest.
Gross maintained that his department had done nothing wrong, and asked why Edwards was questioning him if there was no error in compliance. Edwards said her goal was to better understand the realities of what BPD encounters when working with immigration officials — and whether the Trust Act is doing what it was created to do.
Ultimately, Edwards said that if the goal of the Trust Act was to separate Boston police from ICE, "then we need to write a better ordinance."
"And we just want points of clarity too, that if someone is found to have a warrant and we are law enforcement officers, that we're not supposed to do just turn the other way," Gross replied. "Whether they have immigration issues or not. I don't get it. I'm a little confused on that."
Mayor Marty Walsh has told WBUR he believes Boston police's focus when collaborating with ICE officials should be around felony charges and violent criminals. Gross acknowledged the disconnect between those priorities and the details of this case.
"Let's make sure that when we go forward, that we concentrate on crimes of violence, drug dealing, gang members that are committing acts of violence — because this is not going to be perceived in the right way," Gross said.
Gross promised to meet with city councilors to provide further details about the arrest at a later time. The commissioner left the hearing before Paz Flores shared his own testimony with the council.
This segment aired on April 10, 2019.