Our Opinion: ICE policies put police in no-win spot


Towns in Berkshire County and across the state have been wrestling with the issue of how their police forces should deal with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) at a time when ICE's mission has been heavily politicized by the Trump White House. Great Barrington's Police Department found itself in that fix following the Jan. 8 arrest of town resident Alexis Gkoles by ICE agents.

A friend of Mr. Gkoles, an Albanian immigrant, speculated to The Eagle that his arrest was related to a Nov. 2 grand jury indictment in Berkshire Superior Court on one count of rape from an alleged incident in December 2017 (Eagle, Jan. 17). Courtesy of the government shutdown, ICE cannot confirm the reason for the arrest of any other details because its public affairs officers are on furlough. ICE is notoriously uncommunicative with the press and public anyway, and the shutdown initiated by the White House provides a convenient excuse not to be forthcoming.

According to Police Chief William Walsh, ICE agents came to the police department and requested that an officer go to Mr. Gkoles' apartment to retrieve his medicine. This suggests that Mr. Gkoles was already under arrest, which would mean that the department did not violate town policy against involvement in detaining, transferring or deporting residents in immigration cases. This would instead be a "humanitarian" gesture as described by the chief, and if ICE agents made the request of the department because they did not want to "scare the daylights" out neighbors, as Chief Walsh told The Select Board, ICE acted with the care and discretion that it has not shown in other immigration cases around the state.

Great Barrington resident John Breasted had complained to the Select Board that the arrest raises "complex and troubling political, economic and legal issues," and asked that the matter be discussed at the board's Jan. 28 meeting. Chief Walsh told the board that the specifics of the town's resolution regarding his relationship with ICE will be discussed as well, providing necessary clarity for the department going forward.

Mr. Gkoles is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing on April 18, but by that time he could have been deported to Albania and no one in Berkshire County would be the wiser, regardless of whether or not ICE PR people are back from their enforced vacation. Justice should not be left undone, and the lack of resolution to the case is unfair to Mr. Gkoles' accuser, but ICE has not shown any interest in the legal issues of communities or states.

ICE insists on a go-it-alone policy toward immigrants until it decides it needs the help of local law enforcement or county and state judges, putting them in compromising positions that are of no concern to ICE. Caught in the middle, as was the Great Barrington Police Department, police officers and judges tapped for assistance by ICE are subject to criticism regardless of what they do or don't do. And ICE rolls merrily along, largely unaccountable because its actions, whether justified or not, are cloaked in secrecy.


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