25 Investigates: International fugitives wanted for murder found hiding in Massachusetts

BOSTON — Federal immigration authorities in Boston say they’re targeting deportation efforts on people wanted for serious crimes in their home countries at a time when the number of people apprehended or expelled at U.S. borders is at a record-high level.

Federal authorities encountered nearly 1,600 people along the swath of the U.S. border running from Maine to the eastern New York border from October through January, according to an analysis of U.S. Customs and Border Protection data by 25 Investigates.

That’s a massive jump from about 200 people in that same period a year earlier.

Those figures include largely single adults, as well as hundreds of families and a small number of unaccompanied children immediately expelled to their home country or last country of transit. It also includes people taken into U.S. custody at the border at least temporarily.

On a recent Tuesday, a group of ICE enforcement and removal operations officers from the Boston office and other New England states huddled at the Everett police station.

The group held a safety briefing ahead of a planned operation to arrest individuals wanted for serious crimes in Brazil including a man wanted for aggravated homicide and another man wanted for financial crimes.

We haven’t seen anything like this,” Todd Lyons, director of the ICE field office in Boston, told 25 Investigates reporter Ted Daniel. “It’s been unprecedented.”

Instability in countries like Venezuela and Haiti are forcing people to leave to escape poverty and persecution, according to Sarang Sekhavat, political director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA).

Research shows that most people are not running from the law, Sekhavat told 25 Investigates.

“Studies after studies for decades have shown that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native born Americans,” Sekhavat said. “There’s going to be outliers in any population.”

Lyons said the focus of the agency’s removal operations has shifted to people with red notices – also known as international arrest warrants.

Since Dec. 29, the Boston ICE office has arrested or removed five people wanted for murder, as well as others facing charges including human trafficking, drug trafficking and attempted murder.

“We really focus on the fentanyl dealers, the heroin dealers, child sex traffickers wanted murders,” Lyons said. On Monday ICE officers arrested a woman in Quincy wanted for murder and desecration of a corpse. Lenaria Aparecida Pereira Sandoval was working as a pizza delivery driver in South Boston. She has already been sentenced to 17 years in prison in Brazil.

Lyons said federal immigration authorities in Boston face ongoing challenges: from processing a record number of migrants seeking asylum, to local policies that limit some Massachusetts police departments from working with federal authorities to deport people.

“That’s one of the very hard things that we have to deal with in immigration enforcement is sanctuary jurisdictions or uncooperative jurisdictions,” Lyons said.

The nation’s immigration enforcement strategy has shifted since the Trump administration, Sekhavat noted.

President Biden, a Democrat, ran on a campaign that slammed his predecessor’s record on immigration and vowed to uphold migrants’ right to seek asylum and perverse certain deportation protections.

The Biden administration announced plans on Feb. 22 to severely limit asylum for migrants who don’t first seek protection in a country they passed through before getting to the U.S., according to The Associated Press.

Administration officials cited the surging number of migrants and the looming expiration of a pandemic-era rule limiting asylum. Migrants are also urged to apply for asylum by signing up for appointments through the CBP One app.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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