William Weinreb’s pressing matter

Matt Stout Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Bay State’s U.S. attorney’s office has launched a media blitz on the immigration front, firing off a torrent of press releases touting his office’s work as the Trump administration pushes prosecutors to prioritize illegal immigration cases.

The newfound flood of attention comes weeks after Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a memo to the country’s 94 acting U.S. attorneys, telling them to focus on “aggressively” prosecuting such offenses, including those tied to gang and drug cases.

Acting U.S. Attorney William Weinreb acknowledges his office is still “ramping up” its immigration caseload, which aides say so far is similar to the roughly three dozen or so cases it had prosecuted to this point last year under then-U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz.

But the office’s promotion machine has been in full gear. During the last month, Weinreb’s press office has sent 12 separate press releases on cases of previously deported defendants being charged, convicted or sentenced for illegal re-entry, a common immigration offense. Just last Friday, it sent three news releases in seven minutes, spotlighting cases that carry a maximum sentence of two years.

Under Ortiz, the office sent 10 press releases on such charges over her final five years.

“I think in the weeks or months to come, you’re going to see those numbers increase, as well the numbers of other kinds of immigration crime,” Weinreb told the Herald, adding that he’s designated a prosecutor to handle illegal-re-entry cases as part of “adjustments” within the office. “We do make sure we publicize our efforts so the cases that we do bring will have a deterrent effect.”

Nearly five months after Ortiz resigned, President Trump has yet to name any permanent U.S. attorneys.

But Weinreb insisted his push to highlight the office’s efforts on immigration is not a bid to curry favor with the Department of Justice and win the post.

“We don’t bring cases for the sake of publicizing them or publicizing them for any reason other than to deter others,” Weinreb said. “We’re a public service agency. The community has the right to know what we’re doing. They have a right to know whether or not we are pursuing the DOJ priorities.”

Making good on a Trump campaign promise to more strictly enforce immigration law, Sessions wrote in his April memo that illegal-re-entry cases should be a “priority,” particularly in gang cases.

In Massachusetts, Weinreb said, that will include tacking immigration offenses onto a charging docket when appropriate, even if it already includes far more serious drug or violent offenses.

Michael Sullivan, a former Massachusetts U.S. attorney who has made recommendations for the next U.S. attorney to the White House, said he’s not surprised by the heightened focus on immigration cases, given the priorities Trump set.

“Messaging is important, especially if you want to change behavior. You put them on notice,” Sullivan said. “I think (Weinreb) is doing what’s expected of a U.S. attorney.”

Brian T. Kelly, a former federal prosecutor under Ortiz who is now in private practice at the firm Nixon Peabody, said the Boston U.S. attorney’s office has “always prosecuted illegal re-entry cases,” suggesting there may be a change in press policy rather than law enforcement policy.

“A new administration with new priorities,” he wrote in an email.