BOSTON — Massachusetts has received more than $160 million from federal immigration authorities since 2012, most of which went to four county jails in exchange for housing and transporting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees, according to a report in The Boston Sunday Globe that cited documents obtained through a public records request.
Advocates and immigration attorneys oppose the agreements with the jails. They say the payments are a waste of taxpayer money and there are better alternatives to deal with people facing federal immigration charges.
The sheriff’s offices for Plymouth, Bristol, Franklin, and Suffolk counties that run the jails have defended the arrangements, with at least two saying their relationship with ICE has made Massachusetts safer.
But Matt Cameron, a Boston-based immigration lawyer, said there was “no good public safety justification” for local sheriff’s departments to house ICE detainees.
Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights, favors ending all agreements between county and state entities and federal immigration authorities.
He said detained immigrants who face civil, not criminal, violations should be released using options like bail or mandatory check-ins with immigration officials. He and Cameron say GPS monitoring is a realistic alternative to detention.
All reimbursement revenue from contracts between Massachusetts sheriffs’ departments and the federal government is deposited in the state’s general fund, according to the Executive Office for Administration and Finance.
The agreements make Massachusetts safer, ICE spokesman John Mohan said in an email to the Globe.
“These trusted law enforcement partners and many of those in the communities they serve have repeatedly and publicly supported these relationships with the agency, recognizing the critical role that the housing of our detainees in their facilities plays in keeping their communities safer every day,” he said.
Plymouth Sheriff Joseph McDonald said he believes his agency’s relationship with immigration authorities has “helped to protect the residents of Plymouth County,” according to department spokesman John Birtwell.
Jonathan Darling, a spokesman for the Bristol sheriff’s department, said in addition to the public safety issue, it's more cost-effective for detainees to be held closer to home.
Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson is chairing President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign in Massachusetts and has been an outspoken supporter of Trump’s immigration policies.