State court asks ICE stop deporting defendants pending trial

October 24, 2019

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts’ court system wants federal immigration officials to stop deporting criminal defendants awaiting trial unless they alert judges and prosecutors first.

State Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants and Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey said in a letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday that the deportations “severely, and often irreparably,” interfere with the state criminal process.

“Among other things, it prevents victims from having their day in court, denies defendants the opportunity to be exonerated, and allows defendants who would otherwise be convicted to escape punishment,” the justices said.

They say their offices have identified at least 13 recent cases where defendants facing child rape, murder, drug trafficking and other serious charges have been removed from the country without the court system’s knowledge.

One of the cases goes back to 2014, but most are from the last two years. In at least one instance, “extraordinary resources” had to be spent to extradite a defendant back from the Dominican Republic to face trial, the justices said.

They argue the “appropriate course of action” would be for ICE to take defendants into custody only after their case and any resulting prison sentence are complete.

Marcos Charles, acting director of ICE’s Boston office, didn’t directly address the letter but said the agency considers all factors prior to deporting foreign nationals, including ongoing criminal proceedings.

Wednesday’s letter is the latest in an ongoing spat between the state judicial system and federal immigration officials.

In June, a federal judge ordered ICE to stop making civil arrests at state courthouses while the court considers a lawsuit challenging the agency’s policy.

Boston-area prosecutors and public defenders argue in their lawsuit that some witnesses, victims and defendants have been reluctant to come to court because they fear being arrested by ICE.

Newton District Court Judge Shelley Joseph also faces federal charges for allegedly helping a man from the Dominican Republic slip out a back door of her courthouse while a federal immigration officer was waiting for him.

She’s pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice and remains suspended with pay. A former court officer has also been charged.