ICE agents targeting “ghost” illegal immigrants who eluded prosecution on drug charges — including peddling heroin and fentanyl — arrested 19 suspects in a four-day sweep around Boston that wrapped up Tuesday.
All 19 face being deported, or held accountable for drug charges against them, after being taken into custody in South Boston, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain and in Brockton, Lawrence and Lowell.
“It was all part of an operation to focus on the opioid crisis mainly in Suffolk County,” said Todd Michael Lyons, New England Field Office deputy director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Lyons said ICE agents used fingerprint matches to help track down the suspected drug runners as they circled back to their homes. Some, he added, had already been deported and many were wanted for trafficking in the deadly synthetic opiate fentanyl.
“Finding 19 was good work by sitting and waiting. A lot of it is just chasing ghosts,” Lyons said of the arrests. “They were going back into the city and trying to blend back in.”
He also knocked sanctuary city policies — including Boston’s Trust Act — that allow local authorities to release illegal immigrant suspects back onto the streets without notifying federal authorities first.
“Many politicians are focusing on the opioid epidemic but not the strategic use of law enforcement that must go along with it,” Lyons said, adding many of the suspected drug dealers at Dominican who get the heroin and fentanyl from Mexican drug cartels.
The sweep also hit as the Drug Enforcement Administration warned Monday that Mexican drug cartels are manufacturing mass quantities of fentanyl-laced, counterfeit prescription pills that are showing up on Massachusetts streets.
Based on a sampling of tablets seized from traffickers and street dealers nationwide from January to March of this year, the DEA found that 27% contained fentanyl.
In Massachusetts, agents examined 6 different samples of the suspected Mexico-made tablets carrying between 0.6 and 1.2 mg of fentanyl per tablet, according to an unclassified report by the DEA.
Fentanyl and other highly potent synthetic opioids remain the primary drivers behind the ongoing opioid crisis in the U.S., with fentanyl involved in more deaths than any other illicit drug, according to the DEA.
“People in Suffolk County are the true victims of trafficking in illegal heroin. They are from the middle class, upper class and every class,” Lyons told the Herald. “It’s a crisis. We will lose the war on opioids until we all focus on the foreign criminal element.”
The 19 arrests, he added, show what ICE is doing in Boston.
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