Barbara Howard: Fifty people were arrested on federal immigration charges in Massachusetts during a four day Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation that ended earlier this week. The majority of those taken into custody did have criminal records according to ICE, though many did not. And now a local group, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, is filing a Freedom of Information Act or FOIA request with the federal government to learn about the basis for and the scope of those arrests. With us on the line is the group's executive director, Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal. Thanks for joining us.
Espinoza-Madrigal: Thank you, Barbara.
Howard: Well, so, those local arrests they were part of a larger nationwide operation, isn't that right?
Espinoza-Madrigal: That is correct. Massachusetts was targeted along with a number of other jurisdictions.
Howard: Where were most of these arrests? Were they in the state's so-called sanctuary cities or elsewhere or both?
Espinoza-Madrigal: The arrests happened in jurisdictions across the state. Sanctuary cities were targeted. But so were other towns that have not really weighed in on these immigration issues at all.
Howard: Now, your group is making the claim though that ICE made these arrests in Massachusetts, in the state here, in retaliation for a ruling from the state's highest court that local and state police cannot hold onto suspects based only on pending immigration violations. But what kind of evidence can you offer to back up that claim?
Espinoza-Madrigal: The fact that Massachusetts came out with such a strong ruling placed us in the bull's eye for federal immigration enforcement. When the federal government released the list of places that it had targeted, it mostly concentrated efforts in cities like Los Angeles or Philadelphia, but it's also included Massachusetts as a place of priority. The fact that we were roped in with other cities that have been the target of the federal government. So, we were specifically targeted because of our immigrant friendly policies. No other state was on the list of enforcement activity.
Howard: Now you've put in a FOIA request to get information from the federal government about these raids. What kind of things are you trying to find out with a FOIA request?
Espinoza-Madrigal: We submitted the FOIA request to determine whether communications between immigration officials reference the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision that was very immigrant friendly. If public records released show references to the Supreme Court decision, it could be strong evidence that we are being retaliated for following the rule of law.
Howard: If you find that that is in fact the case, what can be done about it?
Espinoza-Madrigal: There is precedent for other cities that have sued the federal government or in worst thing immigration policies in a retaliatory fashion. Most recently, in New Haven, Connecticut when the city decided to issue a municipal identification card to people regardless of immigration status, federal officials raided New Haven. Public records request in connection with the New Haven raid showed strong evidence that the city had been selected because it had opted to implement the municipal ID. In Massachusetts, if we find similar evidence of retaliation, it can be the basis of a lawsuit against the federal government for abuse of power and politicizing the immigration apparatus.
Howard: OK. Thanks for joining us, Mr. Espinoza-Madrigal.
Espinoza-Madrigal: Thank you.
Howard: That's Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. WGBH News did reach out to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. An ICE spokesman offered no comment on the Lawyers Committee's FOIA request but replied with an earlier statement on the arrests, saying that the operation that the agency called Operation Safe City “focused on cities and regions where ICE deportation officers are denied access to jails and prisons to interview suspected immigration violators, or jurisdictions where ICE detainers are not honored. “