SWAT-like federal officers working in Boston to assist with ICE arrests

A number of specially trained officers and agents from the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency are working in Boston with local US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, according to a US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official in Boston.

The official declined to confirm the number of CBP officials deployed to Boston but did say they come from across the country, including the southern border.

“While some of them are trained in tactical operations, that is one of the many areas of training. These officers have also been trained in routine immigration enforcement actions, which is what they have been asked to do,” according to a Homeland Security statement.

In a news release last Friday, acting ICE Director Matthew Albence said the agency is utilizing the additional officials in cities throughout the country to mitigate “resource challenges stemming from sanctuary city policies.”

He added: “As we have noted for years, in jurisdictions where we are not allowed to assume custody of aliens from jails, our officers are forced to make at-large arrests of criminal aliens who have been released into communities. This effort requires a significant amount of additional time and resources. When sanctuary cities release these criminals back to the street, it increases the occurrence of preventable crimes, and more importantly, preventable victims.”

Boston and many other Massachusetts communities have established so-called sanctuary policies in order to limit interaction between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials. The state’s highest court ruled in 2017 that local law enforcement officials cannot hold an individual who otherwise would be free to go solely at the request of ICE.

US Rep. Ayanna Pressley blasted the move as an intimidation tactic by the Trump administration. “Let us be clear, this move has nothing to do with public safety, but rather serves only to further the Trump Administration’s agenda to intimidate and retaliate against cities that uphold the dignity and humanity of our immigrant neighbors,” she said in a statement released Friday evening.

In a separate news release on Friday, Boston-based ICE officials provided detailed information — including photos — about five individuals referred to as “immigration fugitives” who, the agency says, were released by Massachusetts authorities as a result of sanctuary policies.

According to ICE, all of the cases involved declined detainers, which are requests to hold individuals made by the federal agency to local law enforcement.

Acting Boston Field Office Director Todd M. Lyons of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) said in the release: “Laws passed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court may restrict law enforcement agencies in the Commonwealth from honoring immigration detainers, the law does not limit local agencies from working with ICE to notify us of the release of criminal aliens. The politicization of law enforcement at any level whether it be federal, state, or local does not make anyone safer. ERO Boston from this day forward will continue to notify the public when a criminal threat is released back into their neighborhoods.”

Markey, Warren weigh in

The state’s US senators, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, are demanding that CBP withdraw from the strategy of deploying agents to Boston and other American cities. In a letter to the heads of CBP, DHS and ICE, Markey and Warren called the initiative “unnecessary, unwelcome, dangerous, menacing, retaliatory and unlikely to achieve its stated goal.”

They go on to say that BORTAC agents are supposed to be used to handle dangerous situations outside the normal scope of Border Patrol agent duties - not for “run-of-the-mill immigration arrests” in some of America’s largest cities.

In closing, Warren and Markey asked federal officials to answer the following questions by next Monday: 1. How many of the CBP personnel deployed to assist ICE are BORTAC members? 2. In which communities will these BORTAC members be deployed? 3. What are the specific orders given to the BORTAC teams, and what are their specific rules of engagement while deployed in American cities? 4. What is the chain of command for deployed BORTAC teams?

This story was first published on Feb. 14 by WBUR 90.9FM. The Reporter and WBUR share content and resources through a media partnership.