Boston Police Had a One-Man 'Task Force' That Helped ICE Track Down Immigrants, Emails Show

"Happy hunting," reads one email from an ICE agent.
October 28, 2019, 4:58pm
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer prepares handcuffs and leg irons before a prisoner transfer at ICE's in Broadview, Ill. facility on March 14, 2008. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)​

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Hundreds of pages of emails and other documents show how the Boston Police Department helps ICE find and arrest undocumented immigrants. The department even has a liaison responsible for fielding requests from the federal agency, though he was removed from the position Friday.

The documents, obtained by the ACLU of Massachusetts, show close collaboration between ICE agents and some of the police department’s officers, including “task force officer” Gregory Gallagher. He even offered to cover shifts for special agents within the Department of Homeland Security, which his federal training allowed him to do, according to WBUR, which reviewed the emails.

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ICE also regularly sent Gallagher requests for police reports and other information on immigrants it was looking to arrest and, in some cases, asked him to detain people until ICE could pick them up — a practice the city outlawed five years ago, with a few exceptions.

In one email sent in March, an ICE agent sent Gallagher an email that read “happy hunting,” with a request to detain an immigrant attached.

Gallagher was removed from the position and reassigned to another role Friday. A Boston Police Department spokesperson told VICE News that he’d worked for the department for 32 years but could not immediately confirm how long he had held the task force officer position.

“Basically, [Gallagher] is a liaison to this unit, which is not uncommon,” said Boston police Sergeant Detective John Boyle. “[W]henever [DHS/ICE] have involvement in the city of Boston with certain incidents, [Gallagher] gets involved and assists," a spokesperson told WBUR.

The Trust Act, passed by the Boston City Council in 2014, bars the city’s police officers from honoring ICE requests to detain undocumented immigrants for additional periods of time unless a judge tells them to. The law doesn’t forbid officers from working with ICE in other ways, but Boston mayor Marty Walsh has suggested that Boston is a sanctuary city — a jurisdiction that limits its cooperation with federal immigration agencies — in the past.

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Gallagher could take on the liaison role because the city has an agreement with ICE and one of its divisions, Homeland Security Investigations, that lets certain department employees work “as customs officers,” according to documents reviewed by WBUR. And Walsh said on Saturday he doesn’t expect the agreement with the immigration agency, known as a “memorandum of understanding” to end, though he added that the emails raised “a lot of questions” over the department’s cooperation with ICE.

“My responsibility as mayor and the police department's responsibility is to make sure people are safe, and there's a role there to play in making sure that we share and get information, really, from federal immigration officials,” Walsh told reporters on Saturday. He added that he’s a “pro-immigrant mayor” and called Boston a “pro-immigrant city,” and said the city’s immigrant community shouldn’t worry about the relationship between the police department and ICE.

Walsh’s office had already began looking into the police department’s cooperation with ICE after an undocumented construction worker sued the company he worked for, saying his boss retaliated against him for filing a workers’ compensation claim by reporting him to ICE. The man’s lawsuit said two detectives from the Boston police department helped ICE carry out the arrest.

Together, the lawsuit and the emails suggest that Gallagher wasn’t the only Boston police officer working with ICE. Another officer, detective Juan Seoane, wrote to Gallagher in February asking him to help verify a person’s immigration status and place of residence. “He wants to join team America, but think he was part of a scam with his documents,” Seoane wrote. “Let me know, nothing urgent, thanks.”

Cover image: An Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer prepares handcuffs and leg irons before a prisoner transfer at ICE's in Broadview, Ill. facility on March 14, 2008. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)