Boston’s immigrant communities are responding with anger and fear to the recent arrests of some 50 people across the state by federal agents this week. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — or ICE — targeted Massachusetts as part of a nation-wide crack-down on people in the country illegally who had also committed crimes. But immigrant advocates in Boston say the raids are sweeping up the innocent and leaving neighborhoods terrified.
Officials with ICE arrested 500 people across the country, targeting those who violated U.S. immigration laws who were wanted for assault, domestic violence, burglary, rape, drug and weapons charges. But in the heavily Latino neighborhood along Bennington St. in East Boston, Patricia Montes says the raids sent a disturbing message.
“Our communities are facing a crisis in the U.S. We are tired of that dynamic and rhetoric that is telling us that all immigrants are criminals,” says Montes, the Executive Director of Centro Presente, an immigrant advocacy organization in East Boston.
She says her office has heard of at least two cases in East Boston of undocumented immigrants who were not wanted for criminal charges but who ICE detained this week.
“The city of Boston, especially the police and the Mayor, have been telling us that this is not going to happen in our community,” Montes says. “And it is happening. ICE is coming and is detaining people with no criminal convictions.”
ICE officials say the raids focused on people wanted on criminal charges, but they said if federal agents encountered undocumented immigrants who are here unlawfully they were arrested too — even if they faced no criminal charges. Matthew Albence of ICE directed the raids this week, and says they deliberately targeted cities and states, like Massachusetts, which prevent local law enforcement from assisting federal immigration authorities.
“We focused on those locations in which we have difficulty in receiving the kind of cooperation that we need from those state and local law enforcement agencies,” says Albence.
According to ICE, 20 of the 50 people arrested in Massachusetts had no criminal records. So the raids sent a message to immigrant neighborhoods like East Boston.
“I know a lot of people that don’t have papers, so it’s kind of sad that they’re afraid of going out of the house,” says hairdresser Bernice Maldonado. “They’re afraid of going to work. They’re afraid of taking the kids to school. They’re afraid of being outside the house.”
Back at Centro Presente, Patricia Montes says she wants Governor Charlie Baker to speak out in support of undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts.
“It’s his responsibility to protect the rights of all people in Massachusetts, including undocumented people, because undocumented people also have human rights,” Montes explains.
Baker has walked a fine line on this issue. At an event outside the State House – he urged the Senate to pass a bill that he filed that would allow local law enforcement to work with the federal officials in cases where immigrants have been convicted of a violent crime.
“Law enforcement resources are always stretched and the most effective thing the feds and frankly we can do to keep our streets safe is make sure we’re focused on people who are dangerous criminals who are here illegally,” Baker said.
Baker says the feds did not notify him about this week’s raids.