Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hanscom Field Airport (KBED) flights of undocumented immigrants raise 'red flags' for rep

BEDFORD -- In reaction to news Immigration and Customs Enforcement-chartered flights landed at Hanscom Field and Logan International Airport recently with undocumented immigrants onboard, the state House minority leader is calling for accountability from the governor's administration.

State Rep. Bradley Jones, R-North Reading, sent a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick demanding answers after reading syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin's report this month. Malkin wrote she'd received a tip detained immigrants were coming through the Bay State.

A spokesman from Hanscom Field issued a statement correcting Malkin's writings, stating rather five flights had come through the MassPort facility in Bedford since the spring. In a June 12 column, Malkin reported one planeload of detainees through Hanscom.

But detainees aboard the planes were not housed as Malkin reported, Hanscom staff said, and the immigrants were instead transferred by bus to local prison facilities.

Jones wrote in a letter to the governor he had concerns about this practice. He told The Sun he worries for the burden placed on taxpayers if these kinds of transfers become more common.

"This raises numerous red flags and it is imperative that basic questions regarding this ongoing practice be answered," he wrote in a letter on June 17 to Patrick. "When we are able to provide the residents and taxpayers of the commonwealth with responses, ... we as lawmakers will be better suited to determine how best to proceed."

In response to Jones' letter -- which questioned the practice's oversight, parameters and impact -- the Patrick administration wrote back on June 19 there have rather been seven flights with detainees since April 18 in all, five of which landed in Bedford. Two others were rerouted to Logan.

Hanscom officials said in a statement the Air Force base has since halted its cooperation with ICE after learning there could be a "recurrence of these transfers." The command staff has said they will wait until more information can be "gathered" and a "memorandum of agreement" with ICE is developed.

"Those actions have not reached enough progress for the transfers to resume with Hanscom Air Force Base's cooperation," the statement reads.

Andrea Cabral, secretary of the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, categorized these flights as "routine" in a letter to Jones. Detainees, she said, were either taken to detention facilities in state or outward bound for deportation this spring.

Cabral noted no "extraordinary costs" were incurred with Massachusetts State Police assisting ICE with these transfers.

"ICE detainees were conveyed either to outbound flights for deportation or to state and county correctional cells to await deportation," she said. "ICE pays a per diem to the custodial agency for that service."

Jones said Cabral's letter raised more questions for him. On Monday, he told The Sun he met with state police earlier that day and learned approximately 50 to 100 immigrants were on board those seven flights.

"There's no indication of how long they stayed for or no specific breakdown," he said. "If there are 50 to 100 people and seven plane loads, that's potentially 700 individuals."

Daniel Modricker, a spokesman for ICE's New England Region Public Affairs office, added transfers are completed on commercial as well as chartered aircraft at times.

"These transfers occur on a daily basis across the country and for a variety of reasons. The aliens transferred to the New England area are currently in various stages of the immigration process," he said. "Non-U.S. citizens who are apprehended and determined to need custodial supervision are placed in detention facilities."

The Sun confirmed with the Middlesex Sherriff's Office no detainees at this time are in custody at the Middlesex House of Correction in Billerica.

David Procopio, director of media relations for the Massachusetts State Police, noted in an email prisoner stopovers are "fairly routine events" and trooper assistance on tarmacs is a "fairly routine operation " as well.

Procopio deferred comment to ICE on when these routines first started happening in Massachusetts. ICE said it could not provide that information specifically on Monday.

Jones said for now, he will wait to see what his fellow legislators request from the governor's office for more information before taking more action on this topic.

"We're trying to get a handle on it and understand the program. Will it increase, or is this a temporary thing?" Jones asked. "The southern-tier states are being inundated (with undocumented immigrants crossing the border illegally). If that continues, my guess is this is only going to be something ongoing or (something that's) increasing. At some point, it's going to impact the system financially up here."

Story and comments:  http://www.lowellsun.com

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