Boston lawmakers imposed new limits on police in immigration matters Wednesday in response to revelations the department has been closely coordinating with federal authorities for years despite a sanctuary city policy.
The City Council approved changes to the city's 5-year-old Trust Act, which limits the role city officials play in enforcing the nation's immigration laws.
Democratic Mayor Marty Walsh said the changes, which his office developed along with City Councilor Josh Zakim, are meant to reassure residents that Boston police remain focused on public safety, not civil immigration enforcement.
Marcos Charles, who heads U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Boston office, said laws like Boston's Trust Act, which are meant to prevent local police from working with ICE, make communities less safe.
"This is a public safety issue, not a political issue," he said in a written statement. "It's only common sense that ICE be able to take custody of criminal aliens in a secure environment such as a jail, instead of sending officers out to attempt the often dangerous task of arresting criminal aliens in residential communities."
But the American Civil Liberties Union said city leaders should have gone further in their new restrictions.
"While the updated legislation limits collaboration between Boston police and federal immigration enforcement, it does not end it, and leaves room for Boston police officers to help ICE continue to tear apart families," said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU's Massachusetts chapter.
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Walsh and Zakim moved to update the ordinance earlier this year after it was disclosed Boston police worked with ICE to apprehend a construction worker living in the country illegally after he had sought compensation from his employer following a workplace injury.
Documents obtained by the ACLU also show that a Boston police officer worked for years as the department's designated liaison to ICE. He has since been removed from that role.
The amendments approved Wednesday specifically prohibit officers from sharing information with the division of ICE focused on civil enforcement matters.
But it makes clear the department can continue to work with the agency's Homeland Security Investigations division on significant public safety issues, such as combating human trafficking, child exploitation, drug and weapons trafficking, and cybercrime.
It also requires the department to train officers on the new requirements and issue an annual report on the number of civil detainer requests the city receives from ICE, how many people were transferred into ICE custody and why.
When approved in 2014, the Trust Act stated that Boston officials could not detain or transfer someone to federal authorities solely because of a civil immigration detainer request or administrative warrant.
Walsh's office says ICE requested a total of 175 civil detainers from Boston police in 2017 and 2018.
Those that posted bail were not transferred to ICE custody, while those that did not were transported to the court for arraignment, moving out of Boston police authority, his office said.
ICE made 2,469 arrests for civil immigration violations in New England and removed more than 2,200 people from the country in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, according to data the agency provided Wednesday. Both of those numbers are down from the prior fiscal year, the agency said.