Boston to Check Immigration Status of Imprisoned Suspects


The city of Boston, under the Baker administration, will allow State Police to routinely check with federal immigration authorities about the immigration status of suspects who are already in custody on state criminal charges, upending practices put in place by former governor Deval Patrick.

Governor Charlie Baker said he has decided to change course so troopers can help federal law enforcement combat terrorism, gangs, and other criminal activity.

“This policy revision gives the professionals of our statewide policing agency the tools necessary to detain criminals, gang members, or suspected terrorists wanted by federal authorities,” according to Baker’s statement.

The Republican governor’s decision to reverse his Democratic predecessor’s policy continues wave of debate over law enforcement’s role in immigration, including in Boston, where Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced that city police would not be following suit.

He said in a statement that Boston will “continue our policy to not detain anyone for immigration purposes that is otherwise eligible for release.”

“We want all residents of our city to feel comfortable engaging with our police officers in their neighborhoods to report crimes and cooperate in criminal investigations,” the mayor said.

The State Police policy will not allow troopers to arrest someone or take them into custody solely on immigration issues, but they will be allowed to contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement directly to learn whether ICE considers the person a priority target, the administration said.

This follows the trend between the continued polarization across cities who either refuse to contact ICE to discuss their prisoner’s immigration status, also known as sanctuary cities, and cities like Boston who now cooperate with federal authorities in the matter.

“As before, the State Police will not be enforcing federal immigration law nor will they inquire about immigration status; they will now be able to assist in detaining for our federal partners individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety or national security,’’ Baker said.

Baker said his policy aligns with a new Obama administration initiative called Priority Enforcement Program, the successor to the controversial Secure Communities program.

The program allows ICE to ask state and local law enforcement to detain “removable aliens” if they are suspected of terrorism or espionage, or have been convicted of gang-related crimes, felonies, or a “significant misdemeanor” such as domestic violence or drug distribution.

Federal immigration officials can also request the local detention of an individual convicted of three or more misdemeanors stemming from three separate incidents and not including minor traffic infractions.

Those detained for ICE must have been arrested for a criminal violation or on warrant and detentions must be approved by the troop duty officer, according to the policy.