After Trust Act signing, Gross defensive

Points to arrests, convictions; ‘How come you never hear about that?’

ONLY MOMENTS AFTER Boston Mayor Marty Walsh signed the Immigrant Trust Act, Police Commissioner William Gross fended off questions about his department previously sharing information with federal immigration enforcement under the very sort of circumstances the revised ordinance prohibits.

Since the original 2014 Trust Act, the department has been instructed to ignore detainer requests from federal immigration officials unless the immigrant is wanted for a crime separate from his or her deportation case. The goal is to develop a more trusting atmosphere with immigrants so they are not afraid to approach police about crimes in their communities without the fear of having their personal information turned over to federal authorities.

In October, records obtained by WBUR and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts showed that a Boston police officer had been assigned work as a liaison with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a fact that was the best-known secret in the Boston law enforcement world.

The documents revealed that the officer, Sgt. Det. Gregory Gallagher, had shared information with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement about immigrants that had not committed criminal offenses, which did not comply with the original Trust Act. Gallagher was subsequently removed, but his work undercut the public message put forward by Walsh and Gross that police were only cooperating with ICE in cases involving violent crime and drugs.

At the signing of the new Trust Act on Thursday, Gross spoke in support of the refurbished ordinance. Afterward, he was asked if his office had stopped sharing information with ICE on civil infractions during the time period that the revised Trust Act was being negotiated.

“What the ACLU should mention while they’re at it – if you want to talk about being fair and balanced – in 2016 to 2017, there were over 100 arrests of MS-13 and 18th Street gang [members], and 48 convictions in Massachusetts,” said Gross. “How come you never hear about that? Crimes against the undocumented? All you hear about is an email and assuring of this or that. Find the balance. The Boston Police Department has proven we protect the people.”

Gross told reporters he has traveled to El Salvador and Cabo Verde to try to understand the root cause of gang violence. He said he is more interested in the substance of law enforcement as opposed to the sensationalism that surrounded his department’s internal communications.

“I’m not interested in anyone or their opinions when it’s all about sensationalism,” he said. “I’m not interested in civil actions, or administrative warrants, at all. We’re interested in no matter where you hail from, if a crime is committed against you, you should feel comfortable enough to come to the police.”

He reiterated that point several times, along with saying that people who refer to the internal emails aren’t out on the streets.

“I don’t think anybody helps when they talk about one email or two, but they never mention the hundreds of arrests, convictions, or murders solved. We have been to the homicide scenes. We’ve talked to the children,” he said. “I’m not interested in anyone who’s on board with sensationalism to bring a name to their cause or whatever cause, quite frankly, I don’t see them in the streets like we are.”

The biggest change from Boston’s original Trust Act, enacted in 2014, is that there will be clearer definitions if the situations in which Boston Police officers can share information with ICE. The focus will solely be on criminals that have committed violent crimes, and felons. ‘”If you have hesitations or reservations because your like, ‘I’m not sure if I can come forward, they’ll catch my immigration status,”‘ he said, “Well that’s where this comes into play. We’re not interested in your status. We’re interested in if you were a victim of a crime.”

During his official remarks at the signing, Gross said the new Trust Act proves “we are nobody’s agents.” But he also made clear that anyone who breaks the law will have to pay the consequences. “All are welcome, but don’t think you’re going to come in and commit acts of violence against Bostonians,” he said.

Walsh said the revised Trust Act was a sign of the city leading with its values. “It’s a signal of our commitment that Boston is a welcoming place, no matter where you came from,” Walsh said,

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said she felt the police department was making a delineation between civil and criminal immigration matters.

“You have sent a powerful message of city values and protections for all Bostonians, no matter who they are, no matter where they come from,” she said.