Top judges tell ICE: stop deporting our defendants

Gants, Carey hit deportations, say advance notice to courts, DAs needed

TOP JUDGES IN MASSACHUSETTS are asking federal immigration officials to stop deporting defendants in state cases without telling local courts or the prosecuting district attorney.  

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants and Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey, in a letter sent Wednesday to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, urged the agency to “cease the removal of defendants by ICE during the pendency of criminal charges in our state courts without advance notice to the court and the relevant district attorney.”

The judges said court offices have identified 13 cases in Superior Court in which defendants have been deported without the district attorney in that county being told in advance. In one Suffolk County case, it took five years to extradite the defendant, Jose Ortega, from the Dominican Republic. Ortega faces trial for several child rape charges. The other cases are more recent, and include defendants facing charges of drug trafficking and armed assault.  

“Removal of state criminal defendants pending trial severely, and often irreparably, interferes with the state criminal process,” Gants and Carey wrote, adding that it prevents victims from having their day in court and denies defendants an opportunity to be exonerated. The letter says that defendants would be returned to the agency’s custody after their trial if found not guilty, or, for those convicted, after serving their sentences.  

The letter said the judges would be glad to discuss the issue with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.  

“ICE considers all factors prior to removing an individual from the United States, including ongoing criminal proceedings,” said Marcos Charles, acting field office director of the agency in Boston.

Immigration advocates are celebrating the move. “It is extremely heartening that the judiciary won’t stand for the deportation of individuals while awaiting trial.  We have laws that must be followed by everyone including ICE,” said Mahsa Khanbabai, who leads the New England Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

In April, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins sued ICE over arrests in county courthouses in the first such case in the nation. US District Court Judge Indira Talwani granted a preliminary injunction to block ICE from arresting people for civil immigration violations in and around Massachusetts courthouses.  

Rollins and Ryan both said they applaud the justices’ letter, with Rollins saying that defendants being taken into ICE custody during the course of a pending criminal case “prevents prosecutors from protecting and advocating for our crime victims, and makes our communities less safe as a result.”

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Freelance reporter, Formerly worked for 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.

But not everyone agrees with that the local district attorneys. “This is exactly what happens when state authorities refuse to work cooperatively with ICE. If prosecutors allowed themselves to have awareness of immigration status and ICE intentions, and agreed not to release defendants out from under ICE, then this problem would not exist,” said Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the Washington, DC-based Center for Immigration Studies. The group is a nonpartisan research institute that examines the economic, security, and social impact of immigration. The organization challenged the Obama administration immigration enforcement policies and often lauds President Trump’s approach.

She added that it’s “ridiculous” for the judges to complain when they’ve “created an environment where non-citizen defendants are inappropriately released from custody pending trial.”  Vaughan stressed that the courts need to communicate with ICE and file something called a “writ to delay removal,” which would do exactly that. She said courts in the state “make ICE’s job as hard as possible, and then act all surprised and offended when ICE doesn’t go crawl into a corner.”