In the past six months, defendants moving through the Edgartown District Court are being flagged for violation of immigration laws in significantly higher numbers, according to close observers of the court system.
In the month of February, a routine electronic fingerprint check alerted local authorities to three men who were wanted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
They were all taken into federal custody, where they remained this week, while their cases proceed through the federal court system.
"We determined that all three individuals were in the country illegally," said ICE spokesman Michael Gilhooly. "These three cases are perfect examples of ICE responding to requests from a local agency."
The alerts were received by the Dukes County sheriff's department, which processes all defendants before court appearances. The notice tells local authorities why ICE has issued a detainer, but does not indicate what violations, if any, caused ICE to take action.
According to the sheriff's office, on February 4, Washington Chagas, age 35, was ordered to appear in Edgartown District Court on a charge of driving without a license. Fingerprints taken during the booking procedure were checked against a federal database, as they are with everyone who goes through the court system. The fingerprint check revealed that Mr. Chagas had already been ordered deported from the United States. He was taken into federal custody, and deportation proceedings will continue, according to Mr. Gilhooly.
On February 6, Alcides Decassio, age 32, was arrested on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol, and driving without a license. A fingerprint check alerted local authorities that ICE was already investigating Mr. Decassio to see whether he should be deported. After he was taken into federal custody, that investigation continued.
On February 13, Marcelo Dacosta, age 36, was cited on charges of driving without a license, and driving an uninspected vehicle. A fingerprint check showed a detainer from ICE, requesting local authorities hold Mr. Dacosta in custody. After an ICE agent interviewed him, Mr. Dacosta was taken into federal custody, and his case is proceeding through the federal court system.
While local authorities were alerted to these three men, it is impossible to determine how many Island residents who live here illegally went through the court system without tripping any alerts, because no one in the state court system records or verifies immigration status. If a defendant is violating federal immigration laws, but has never previously come in contact with ICE, or committed a serious crime, it is very unlikely that a fingerprint check would alert local authorities that the defendant is living here illegally.