District attorney blames Washington for lack of criminal deportations

DA Michael O’Keefe said a murder suspect arrested on Martha’s Vineyard is one example of a flawed policy that puts communities at risk.

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Cape and Island District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said the recent arrest on Martha’s Vineyard of a Brazilian national with an outstanding criminal record living in Edgartown, whom local police discovered is wanted for murder in Brazil, is an example of flawed national leadership and unwillingness to step up criminal deportations.

On Monday, Nov. 16, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers with assistance from Oak Bluffs Police tracked down and arrested Reinaldo Braga Barbosa, 35, of Edgartown.

Mr. Barbosa, who was living and working in this country illegally, had previously been convicted of felony assault and served time in the Dukes County House of Correction. It was only after an Oak Bluffs Police detective received information that Mr. Barbosa was wanted for murder in Brazil, and contacted the ICE office in Providence, R.I., to relay that information, that federal authorities took action to apprehend and deport Mr. Barbosa. Following the arrest, ICE confirmed the outstanding murder investigation in Brazil.

“With a prior felony assault conviction, Braga Barbosa is an enforcement priority and will remain in custody pending the outcome of removal proceedings,” an ICE spokesman said in a statement issued Thursday.

Starts at the top

Asked how a man wanted for murder in his home country, who was in this country illegally, could pass through the local court system, be convicted of a crime and serve time in jail, yet be released back into this community, Mr. O’Keefe put the blame squarely on Washington and Obama administration policies.

Mr. O’Keefe said ICE acted only after the fact and only in connection with a murder investigation. He said Mr. Barbosa was a small example when compared with more tragic cases in which criminals who are in this country illegally are set free. He cited the example of a young woman murdered in front of her father by a man in San Francisco, which is a so-called “sanctuary city,” and has a municipal policy to not alert federal authorities to criminals who may be in the country illegally.

“If we have that situation going on, it does not surprise me at all that the ICE officials, when they are finally told that this person may in fact be wanted for a murder in Brazil, that all of a sudden ICE agents appear and he has now become what’s called a priority, based on his preexisting Massachusetts criminal history,” Mr. O’Keefe said. “It’s only subsequent to that that they got confirmation that he’s in fact wanted by the Brazilian police for this homicide issue.”

Mr. O’Keefe said policies differ across jurisdictions with respect to any investigation into the immigration status of people arrested for criminal activity. “For example, the State Police have a policy that was instituted by Governor [Deval] Patrick that they are prohibited from doing that, unless — and the exceptions are relatively unintelligible, at least to this lawyer.”

Mr. O’Keefe, a Republican, a longtime prosecutor with more than 20 years of courtroom experience, was first elected Cape and Islands District Attorney in 2002. Asked what has to change, Mr. O’Keefe said, “I think there has to be some leadership at the federal level that is going to get serious about deporting criminals, people who are in this country who are illegal and who commit crime.”

Mr. O’Keefe said Mr. Barbosa had already committed serious crimes prior to the Oak Bluffs Police contacting ICE. “The question [to ICE] would be,” he said, “why all of a sudden was he picked up, and why wasn’t he picked up earlier?”

Mr. O’Keefe said criminals are prosecuted by his office to the extent the law allows. ICE and other federal agents take their marching orders from President Obama.

“The person who controls Homeland Security, ICE, and all of the other federal law enforcement agencies is the president of the United States, and he has demonstrated that he does not wish to have even criminal defendants who are illegal deported from this country,” Mr. O’Keefe said.