US border agents to pursue migrants in ‘sanctuary’ cities, including Boston

WASHINGTON — Federal agents who patrol the U.S. border will deploy to “sanctuary” cities across the country where local jurisdictions are hindering stepped up immigration enforcement, officials said Friday.

The deployment of Customs and Border Patrol agents, some with tactical training, to the interior of the country is unusual and represents another escalation in the confrontation between the Trump administration and the local jurisdictions that have set up roadblocks to immigration enforcement.

Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Matthew Albence said additional forces are needed because people without legal authorization to be in the country are being released from local jails in sanctuary cities and counties before his agents can take them into custody.

ICE then has to make “at large arrests” of these immigrants who have been released, Albence said in a statement announcing the move.

“This effort requires a significant amount of additional time and resources,” he said. "When sanctuary cities release these criminals back to the street, it increases the occurrence of preventable crimes, and more importantly, preventable victims.”

The acting director did not disclose when or where the agents would be deployed but an official, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose details not provided in the statement, said they would include major sanctuary cities such as San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Boston and Detroit.

>> Documents show ICE accessed Boston school records 135 times

In response to the decision, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement:

“Boston is one of the safest cities in America, proving every day that it’s possible to decrease crime while being a city that is welcoming to everyone. What we need - and have needed for a long time - is a sound, rational national immigration policy rooted in both compassion and common sense. Never forget that at the root of this issue are human beings. All human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Policies aimed at sowing division and fear are ultimately counterproductive and harmful not merely to the families and individuals who are targeted but to the broader community of which we are all a part of."

—  Boston Mayor Marty Walsh

Albence also did not provide details on the specific types of agents being deployed, but the official said they would come from varied U.S. locations and would include officers with tactical training that is typically intended to prepare them for potential confrontations with traffickers and other criminals.

Immigrant advocates dismissed the deployment as a political move by President Donald Trump to excite anti-immigration elements among his supporters and intimidate communities that have adopted sanctuary policies to ensure people cooperate with local law enforcement regardless of whether they are in the country illegally or not.

“Deploying elite SWAT-like units to American cities is dangerous,” said Naureen Shah of the American Civil Liberties Union. “This is about further militarizing streets."

Shah, senior advocacy and policy counsel for the ACLU, said she was concerned about use of the military-like Border Patrol Tactical Unit in a civilian setting.

“We could see CBP officers who aren't trained for interior immigration enforcement using excessive force, emboldening ICE agents to do the same and escalating situations,” she said.

The deployment comes as the president and others in his administration look to increase pressure on a sanctuary city movement that has expanded since he took office.

More than 700 counties have now declined to continue holding people sought by ICE and more than 160 have prohibited officers from even asking people about their immigration status, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

Supporters of sanctuary policies say people will be less likely to report crime or to be a witness if they believe they could be deported for doing so. “Our relationships with our police and sheriff’s departments have become stronger because of these policies,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.

Albence and others in the administration say sanctuary policies interfere with legitimate law enforcement efforts.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said moving agents from the border will weaken security there.

“It is truly alarming that President Trump is moving resources away from the border just to ratchet up his cruel immigration agenda, throw meat to his base, and inflict revenge on states that don't do what he says," said Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley’s Office told Boston 25 News:

“Let us be clear, this move has nothing to do with public safety, but rather serves only to further the Trump Administration’s agenda to intimidate and retaliate against cities that uphold the dignity and humanity of our immigrant neighbors. We will not stand for this. Where this administration chooses cruelty, the City of Boston will choose compassion. We will do everything in our power to affirm the safety and humanity of our immigrant neighbors. I call on each of my colleagues in government in the City of Boston and targeted cities across the nation to affirm that we will not comply or cooperate with this abuse of power from the Trump Administration. We know our communities are made stronger by our immigrant neighbors and we will not turn our back on them in this time of persecution.”

—  Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07)

The Justice Department this week filed one lawsuit against New Jersey for prohibiting state and local law enforcement from sharing information about inmates in the U.S. illegally and another Washington state's King County over a policy that prohibits the Department of Homeland Security from using the King County International Airport-Boeing Field for deportation flights.

Last week, the Department of Homeland Security said it would bar New York residents from trusted traveler programs such as Global Entry because of state law that prohibits immigration agents from accessing motor vehicle records.

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins told Boston 25 News:

Deploying militarized units into neighborhoods creates even greater fear and disorder and significantly harms relationships that local law enforcement agencies and public officials have worked so hard to build and foster. Don’t be fooled. None of this makes us safer. This is being done to strike fear and terror throughout our immigrant communities. This is being done to be cruel and to silence and terrorize people. This is being done to limit the number of people that partake in the 2020 census. It’s challenging enough for any member of our community to come forward to law enforcement when they have been a victim or witness to a crime. For our undocumented brothers and sisters, there is also a real and constant fear of deportation that prevents far too many from even considering getting involved. When individuals are too frightened to speak with police and prosecutors, to show up in court to provide testimony, to seek the protection of the law, or to have their day in court, we are all less safe. As a result, prosecutors are unable to hold individuals accountable for serious and violent offenses, victims of violence continue to live in fear, and the services and protections afforded by our courts are out of reach for some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. The outrageous actions of this President do not make our nation or our local communities safer. I am so proud to have joined and pushed the 2019 legal actions filed against Immigration and Customs Enforcement. As a result, a federal judge granted our request for a preliminary injunction barring civil arrests in the public and surrounding areas of our state courts. Now, Massachusetts is the only state in the entire country that affords our immigrant brothers and sisters this protection, which they so rightfully deserve.

—  Rachael Rollins

Trump has been trying since he took office to punish sanctuary cities. In 2017, Jeff Sessions, then attorney general, said such cities would not receive grant money unless they gave federal immigration authorities access to jails and provide advance notice when someone in the country illegally is about to be released from prison. A federal judge blocked the punishment from being enforced, and the cities got the money.

DHS sent Boston 25 News the following statement:

“The crisis at the border affects communities throughout the United States and has a huge impact on ICE. The crisis at the border led to a significant increase in the number of non-detained cases which surpassed 3.2 million in FY19, up from 2.6 million in FY18 and 2.4 million in FY17. With 5,300 ERO law enforcement officers – some of whom were detailed to the border - ICE does not have sufficient resources to effectively manage the sustained increase in non-detained cases which is exacerbated by the rise of sanctuary jurisdictions. The CBP agents and officers who are being detailed to help ICE come from a number of different sectors and job positions. While some of them are trained in tactical operations, that is one of the many areas of training. These officers have also been trained in routine immigration enforcement actions which is what they have been asked to do. All CBP officers and agents are FLETC-trained, just like ICE, and are more than capable of helping ICE fulfil their mission.”

—  Department of Homeland Security