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The ACLU of Massachusetts has requested information on the Boston Police Department’s ICE task force.

Cops appear to cooperate in ‘sanctuary city’

A 2017 arrest has prompted the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts to look into the Boston Police Department to determine the extent to which officers are working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The ACLU filed a public records request last week with the BPD regarding the March 2017 arrest by ICE of Jose Martin Paz Flores, a construction worker at Tara Construction, Inc. after he was injured on the job and filed for workers’ compensation. Flores was arrested after Boston Police Sergeant Gregory Gallagher, who is assigned to the department’s ICE Task Force, became involved in the case.

“The allegation that the Boston Police Department facilitated the ICE arrest of an injured worker is alarming, and calls into question the City of Boston’s commitment to workers and immigrant communities,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, in a statement. “Immigrants are forced into the shadows when police arrest them for doing the right thing, such as reporting a work injury. The City must do all it can to protect and defend our immigrant neighbors, coworkers, and friends.”

This case comes just a few months after a November incident in which another immigrant was arrested by ICE after BPD shared information with the federal agency through its ICE Task Force.

Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a spokesman for BPD, said that the department has one officer who serves as a liaison to ICE, much like other liaisons that the department has with other federal agencies, and that they work with ICE when the agency has cases within the city of Boston.

“We work with them on violent crimes and narcotics,” Boyle said. “We are not immigration officers dealing with immigration issues.”

Yet in neither the November case nor the Tara Construction case was a defendant charged with a violent crime. Flores was not charged with a crime. In the November case, Boston police officers charged undocumented immigrant Lenyn Baldemiro Cuello-Villar with forgery of a registry document and driving with a revoked license. Cuello-Villar, who obtained his license in Florida, was never able to clear his name, having been taken into custody before his attorney could present evidence at a motion-to dismiss hearing.

Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said in a WGBH radio interview last week that he was unhappy with how the case was handled.

“It seems like an employer here was trying to kind of get back at an employee,” Walsh said. “It’s unclear about what role detectives played in this particular case, but I want to be very clear on [this] when I talk about immigrants in Boston: We shouldn’t be criminalizing immigrants.”

Walsh has previously stressed the city’s status as a sanctuary city, a term which means that Boston does not share information with federal immigration agents, in order to protect immigrants from deportation.

Audrey Richardson, senior attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, who represents Flores, said in a statement that it was shocking that BPD helped an employer retaliate against an injured worker, who has legal rights to medical care and workers’ compensation regardless of immigration status.

“BPD’s alleged action dramatically increases the vulnerability of immigrant workers to exploitation and abuse,” Richardson said. “It is highly inconsistent with the message that the City otherwise sends.”

Under state law, the city must respond to the ACLU’s public records request within 10 days.

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