9 detained in immigrant investigation

49 others are told to report back

By Maria Sacchetti
Globe Staff / January 7, 2010

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Federal immigration officials pulled over four vans yesterday morning in Foxborough, detained nine immigrants, and ordered 49 more who were stopped to report to federal authorities to determine whether they are here legally.

The arrests were the result of a routine Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation seeking specific fugitives who have been ordered deported, agency spokeswoman Paula Grenier said. But the action drew swift rebuke from advocates for immigrants, who questioned why authorities ordered 49 others to report back if they were not the original targets.

Grenier said the agency’s priority is cracking down on crime and terrorism, but acknowledged that when the agency’s fugitive operations team encounters possible illegal immigrants in the field, they can detain them.

“When we conduct fugitive operations, we often encounter other aliens,’’ Grenier said. “We are responsible for enforcing the immigration and customs laws that are on the books.’’

Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said broadening the operation to include immigrants who were not initially targeted provokes fear in the immigrant community and raises questions about whether racial profiling was involved.

“Why this large number of people?’’ Millona asked. “We understand those who are targeted, and that’s why they’re in custody. But what about this other large number of people who were told to return? We’re concerned about how this has been conducted.’’

Two of the nine immigrants detained yesterday are fugitives with a criminal history and are being held for deportation, Grenier said. Five who illegally reentered the country will be referred to the US attorney’s office for criminal prosecution. The remaining two detainees were still being interviewed last night, and their status was unclear.

The immigration agency declined to release the detainees’ names or their individual criminal histories, citing the agency’s privacy policy. However, Grenier said the detainees’ collective legal violations include domestic assault, obstructing a police officer, possession of a stolen motor vehicle, driving while intoxicated, and other driving offenses.

It is also unknown when the 49 people who were stopped and released will have to report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. They were not arrested, Grenier said.

Correspondent Julie Balise contributed to this report.