July 24, 2017; WBUR News
The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts handed down a landmark decision yesterday, ruling that the state’s law enforcement officials do not have the right to detain immigrants based only on a detainer request from ICE.
Massachusetts law provides no authority for Massachusetts court officers to arrest and hold an individual solely on the basis of a Federal civil immigration detainer, beyond the time that the individual would otherwise be entitled to be released from State custody.
The ruling in Lunn v. Commonwealth found that state law “provides no authority for Massachusetts court officers to arrest and hold an individual solely on the basis of a federal civil immigration detainer, beyond the time that the individual would otherwise be entitled to be released from state custody.”
The plaintiff, Sreynuon Lunn, was born in Thailand to Cambodian parents. He brought suit because he had been held on a Department of Homeland Security civil immigration detainer even though county prosecutors had dropped the original robbery charge that had been lodged against him. The feds picked him up in February, but neither Thailand nor Cambodia considered him a citizen, so he has not, after all, been deported—just detained.
“Today’s decision is a victory for the rule of law and smart immigration and criminal justice policies, and a rejection of anti-immigrant policies that have stoked fear in communities across the country,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement. She added that the ruling “allows local law enforcement to focus their resources on keeping people safe.”
Sign up for our free newsletters
Subscribe to NPQ's newsletters to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.
C.M. Cronen, the director of the ICE field office in Boston, says they are still determining what their next moves will be but asserts that the ruling “weakens local law enforcement agencies’ ability to protect their communities.”
Eva Millona, director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), said the ruling “provides much needed clarity for Massachusetts law enforcement.” But Susan Church, a former head of the New England chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, believes that the influence of the ruling could be far greater, providing a roadmap for elsewhere.
Carol Rose of the ACLU of Massachusetts called the ruling “the first of its kind in the nation.”
At a time when the Trump administration is pushing aggressive and discriminatory immigration enforcement policies, Massachusetts is leading nationwide efforts by limiting how state and local law enforcement assist with federal immigration enforcement.