Lelling goes off on sanctuary city movement

Says what ICE does should be ‘utterly uncontroversial’

A week after President Trump lashed out at sanctuary cities in his State of the Union speech and days after Attorney General William Barr launched a legal offensive against them, US Attorney Andrew Lelling of Massachusetts weighed in locally, calling the sanctuary city movement a “genuine and persistent threat to our communities and the rule of law.”

In an op-ed in the Boston Herald, Lelling said Immigration and Customs Enforcement “is not randomly plucking people off the streets; it is prioritizing the arrest of those who (a) knowingly entered the United States illegally and (b) are now engaged in other criminal activity, are gang-affiliated, or bear some other indicator that they are a risk to the public.”

Lelling said ICE made 2,469 civil arrests in fiscal 2019, and 90 percent of those who were arrested had prior criminal convictions or arrests on criminal charges. “This should be utterly uncontroversial,” Lelling said. “In fact, it should be applauded.”

But Lelling said all too often municipalities direct local police officers not to cooperate with ICE; there is also the Safe Communities Act that is still alive on Beacon Hill that would limit communications and cooperation between local law enforcement officials and ICE.

Supporters say the Safe Communities Act would improve public safety by allowing undocumented immigrants to step forward without fear of being deported if they are aware of or a victim of a crime. Rep. Ruth Balser of Newton, a cosponsor of the Safe Communities Act, said there are steps the state can take to make Massachusetts “a safe and welcoming place for immigrants and refugees.”

But Lelling indicated sanctuary measures, like those in Boston, run counter to the rule of law and endanger public safety. He cited a case from 2017 where a Dominican named Luis Baez, who had previously been deported for drug and gun crimes, returned to the United States and allegedly raped a Boston College student while working as an Uber driver under an alias. Middlesex County prosecutors, aware of his immigrant status, sought $100,000 bail and GPS monitoring to make sure he showed up in court.

Despite that knowledge, Newton District Court Judge Mary Beth Heffernan granted Baez $2,500 cash bail. “No one notified ICE,” Lelling said. “He fled the country, and that young woman has yet to see justice done.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Lelling accused sanctuary city supporters of selectively deciding which laws to enforce. He said it’s no different from Second Amendment backers who are preemptively refusing to abide by gun control laws. “This is the future this movement has created: local officials, basking in their own self-righteousness, deciding simply not to follow laws they personally opposed.”

Lelling, one of the Boston Globe’s Bostonians of the year in 2019, did not mention in his op-ed his prosecution of another Newton district court judge, Shelley Richmond Joseph, who is accused of obstruction of justice for allegedly helped an undocumented immigrant evade an ICE agent at her courthouse. That case is still pending.