Document details ICE arrests, raises questions about targets of September sweep

  • FILE - In this March 6, 2015, file photo, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents enter an apartment complex looking for a specific undocumented immigrant convicted of a felony during an early morning operation in Dallas. The federal government provided Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, the most complete statistical snapshot of immigration enforcement under President Donald Trump, showing Border Patrol arrests plunged to a 45-year low while arrests by deportation officers soared. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File) Ap Photo

Published: 1/3/2018 10:08:39 PM

NORTHAMPTON — At the end of September, Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted a nationwide immigration sweep, arresting 498 immigrants, including 50 in Massachusetts. ICE said at the time that the explicit purpose of that crackdown, dubbed “Operation Safe City,” was to target “sanctuary jurisdictions.”

However, information about those arrests provided by ICE to the Gazette through a Freedom of Information Act request seems to complicate the agency’s narrative that officials were targeting cities and towns with sanctuary policies — and raises questions about just who was targeted in the operation.

So-called “sanctuary city” policies differ across the state, but generally mean that a municipality refuses to help federal immigration authorities.

The document obtained by the Gazette, which submitted its FOIA request shortly after the sweep, includes a list of the arrests, country of origin and addresses of the 50 people arrested.

Only 15 of those immigrants are listed next to a town or city that has had some kind of sanctuary policy; one lists Amherst, one Holyoke, seven East Boston, four Lawrence, one Newton and one Chelsea. The addresses corresponding to the other 36 arrests are municipalities without a sanctuary policy. Ten arrests occurred in western Massachusetts, including seven in Springfield and one in Turners Falls.

Those targeted in the state during the Operation Safe City were largely from Central America, South America, Mexico and the Caribbean; 45 of the 50 arrestees had a country of origin listed in those regions, despite the fact that only 59 percent of the state’s “unauthorized population” comes from those regions, according to 2014 U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed by the Migration Policy Institute.

“The document confirms what we already know — that ICE operations are often used to bully cities into helping the Trump administration carry out its cruel deportation program,” said William Newman, director of the Western Regional Law Office of the American Civil Liberties Union.

ICE public affairs spokesman John Mohan said that the addresses listed in the document don’t necessarily correspond with where those immigrants lived. But given that the document only lists those towns under a column labeled “address,” Mohan said he wouldn’t speculate on whether they referred to an arrestee’s residence or where they were arrested. ICE redacted names and specific street addresses from the document.

“Operation Safe City achieved great success in achieving its goals of combating criminal illegal alien activity in communities adversely impacted by sanctuary jurisdiction policies,” Mohan said.

Mohan also pushed back when asked about the seemingly disproportionate representation of immigrants from Latin America in the arrests.

“ICE does not target individuals based on religion, ethnicity, gender or race,” he wrote. “ICE targets any individual who is suspected of violating U.S. immigration laws, with a focus on those who have criminal histories.”

ICE did provide a list of convictions or pending charges on the targeted immigrants’ records, ranging widely from traffic offenses to violent crimes like assault and battery. Eight of those arrested appear to currently have had no criminal record.

Mohan said those targeted in the operation, as with other enforcement operations, “were established through intelligence and information gathered as part of extensive preliminary investigations done in preparation for this enforcement action.”

Newman said the operation, and the document obtained by the Gazette, should provide urgency for state lawmakers to pass the so-called Safe Communities Act, a sanctuary bill that would cover the entire state.

Though only some Massachusetts communities — including Amherst and Northampton — have declared themselves sanctuary cities in one way or another, a recent court decision has led some to label Massachusetts a “sanctuary state.”

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled in the case Lunn v. Commonwealth that state law “provides no authority for Massachusetts court officers to arrest and hold an individual solely on the basis of a Federal civil immigration detainer, beyond the time that the individual would otherwise be entitled to be released from State custody.”

In a press release listing where arrests took place during Operation Safe City, ICE singled out the “state of Massachusetts” together with prominent cities and one county with sanctuary policies.

The administration of President Donald Trump has sought to crackdown on so-called sanctuary cities, threatening to pull funding from those municipalities, including grants to police departments. In a Tuesday interview on Fox News, acting ICE Director Thomas Homan even suggested that politicians in sanctuary jurisdictions should be charged with crimes.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at

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Northampton, MA 01061


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