“If you receive a document similar to the one pictured below please DISREGARD”
It’s been a week since the Chelsea Police Department warned the public about a fake letter telling immigrants to leave the country that had been circulating around the city and in other areas including nearby Everett.
Organizers at Chelsea Collaborative have heard from more than a dozen people who said they received the notices. None of those have been directly reported to police. This isn’t entirely a surprise, since immigrants without legal paperwork often fear reaching out to law enforcement.
The letter, dated Oct 13, claims that the Department of Homeland Security is aware of the person’s “unlawful presence and employment in this country,” and alleges recipients are under surveillance in their homes and workplaces.
Although the letter stated recipients who didn’t leave the country voluntarily by Oct. 31 would be “extracted” by a “SWAT team,” additional letters were reported as recently as last week.
“Although you have broken the law, our government is granting you this generous opportunity for a peaceful self-removal,” the letter said, listing reasons for removal, including tax evasion and illegal employment.
According to Chelsea Police Department Chief Brian Kyes, recipients, some of whom were undocumented immigrants, told friends and advocates about the letters, and those third parties notified the city manager’s office, which in turn called his department.
“If you receive a document similar to the one pictured below please DISREGARD,” Kyes tweeted, along with a photo of the letter. “This was NOT sent from the Department of Homeland Security in Burlington.”
The letter has a Department of Homeland Security logo and looks official. “I can understand why this would create quite a stir,” Kyes said. He called US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which handles deportations for the Department of Homeland Security, and spoke with regional field office director Todd Lyons. “I told Todd, this seems like a hoax.”
“After a review of the correspondence depicted in the tweet sent by the Chief Kyes, we can confirm this is not an official correspondence from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” said a spokesman for the agency. He said that among other things, the language used in the correspondence is “not the type of language that is contained in official agency notifications/correspondence on removals.”
Chelsea has long been a target for immigration enforcement, with its significant foreign-born population. The Trump administration in particular has taken interest in cities like Chelsea because of its sanctuary city status, meaning that if push comes to shove, the municipality will limit the extent to which it will volunteer resources and information in support of federal immigration enforcement agents. This could mean saying no to joint patrols and raids, refusing to jail someone who has posted bond, or refusing to gather information about immigration statuses.
Kyes said this wasn’t a concern when he read the letter, because immigration enforcement has slowed down in Chelsea during the pandemic. “The interactions we’ve had with ICE have been significantly less in the past few months,” the chief said.
Chelsea Collaborative has been working with Greater Boston Legal Services to ease the concerns of those who received the fake notice.
“We want to be sure the community is aware it’s not a real letter,” said Sylvia Ramirez, a manager with the group. One thing that hasn’t been made clear, she added, is how whomever sent the letters knew to send to people without legal status.
“Why are they targeting people? And why did they go to people with deportation orders or those with protected statuses? We don’t know.”
Sarah is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal.