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Are Boston police working regularly with ICE?

Existence of department's ICE Task Force suggests regular cooperation

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Are Boston police working regularly with ICE?
Boston Police Department. Banner photo

You could forgive attorney Zachary Cloud for walking into Dorchester District Court with an air of confidence, Nov. 30. Police had pinched his client, Lenyn Baldemiro Cuello-Villarack in August and charged him with forgery of a registry document and driving with a revoked license after he presented a Florida driver’s license that arresting officers presumed was fake.

Now, armed with documentation proving Cuello-Villar is who he said he is, Cloud was heading to a motion-to-dismiss hearing when he heard his client call his name. Cuello-Villar, with his hands cuffed behind his back, was being led to a black Dodge Caravan by agents with the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Targeted by ICE

Wondering how his client, a lawful permanent resident, fell into the crosshairs of ICE, Cloud scanned the incident report from the arrest that landed Cuello-Villar in court. There at the bottom was a line that gave a rare window into the extent of the Boston Police Department’s cooperation with the federal agency: “Sgt. Det. Gallagher from the ICE task force was notified.”

While Mayor Martin Walsh has spoken out against the Trump administration’s policy of deporting nonviolent undocumented immigrants, pointedly defending Boston’s status as a sanctuary city, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice last December sued the city and the BPD to gain access to information collected by the Boston Regional Intelligence Center (BRIC). Lawyers Committee attorneys are concerned that BRIC regularly shares data with federal authorities, including ICE, often putting immigrants suspected — but not convicted — of criminal activity in danger of deportation.

Sanctuary for whom?

Civil rights attorney Carlton Williams said the existence of such a task force undermines the city’s status as a sanctuary city.

“The Boston Police Department, if they’re giving information on people to ICE, they’re basically serving people up to Trump’s deportation machine,” he said. “Many times, as we’ve seen, people are being deported for nonviolent crimes. State and city officials shouldn’t be spending our money helping to deport our neighbors.”

With revelations about BRIC and the existence of the department’s ICE Task Force now public, the question is not whether Boston Police are cooperating with ICE, but rather how deep the cooperation goes.

“This is not surprising considering the exchange of information between the city of Boston and federal authorities,” Lawyer’s Committee Executive Director Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal said. “We have at least two incidents involving immigrant children whose school incident reports wound up in the hands of federal immigration officials. These two incidents are the tip of the iceberg.”

Sharing information

The BPD’s media relations department did not respond to verbal and written requests for information about the task force. But a police officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Banner the task force works out of BRIC and has at least three officers assigned to it.

“They’re like unknown soldiers,” he said. “We know they’re there. We don’t know what they do,” the officer said.

Espinoza-Madrigal said the city’s refusal to disclose information about the police department’s cooperation with ICE suggests the sharing of data may be more widespread.

“We believe the reluctance to disclose public records on this disturbing practice is to hide from public scrutiny the volume of information that has been shared and the toll this has taken on Bostonians in a so-called sanctuary city,” he said.

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