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Massachusetts High Court Rules Local Immigration Detainers Are Illegal

gavel-300x178In a momentous ruling against the Trump administration’s immigration policies, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has outlawed the detention of suspected undocumented immigrants without proper criminal charges on the sole basis of a federal immigration detainer.

The ruling involves Cambodian national Sreynuon Lunn, who was set for a failed deportation in 2008 and was charged with unarmed robbery in 2016. While the charge was eventually dropped for lack of evidence, Lunn was kept in detention for immigration concerns as requested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Shortly after Lunn’s case was dismissed earlier this year, ICE took custody of the immigrant, who was held at the time by local enforcement.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Found that cooperation between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local enforcement is lawful insofar as the collaboration is compliant with state laws. However, the court considers it illegal for local enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants without criminal charges for ICE purposes.

The ruling states, “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 panel was unanimous in their decision. To justify their ruling, the panel wrote per curiam: “Nothing in the statutes or common law of Massachusetts authorizes court officers to make a civil arrest in these circumstances.”

In response to the ruling, Carol Rose, state executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, released a statement, writing, “This court decision sets an important precedent that we are a country that upholds the Constitution and the rule of law.”

“This victory is 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. Now more than ever, we need to send a clear message that Massachusetts stands with our immigration neighbors, and we call on the Massachusetts Legislature to protect all of Massachusetts’ communities by passing the Safe Communities Act,” she adds.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey may have argued with the ACLU before the Supreme Judicial Court, but her office praised what it called the “first statewide decision in the nation on the lawfulness of detaining someone on behalf of federal immigration authorities.”

The ruling comes at a time when so called sanctuary cities, or cities (and counties) that refuse to cooperate with immigration detainers from ICE, are under threat of being cut off from federal funding by the Trump administration. The federal government is highly reliant on local law enforcement to enforce immigration policies, hence the White House’s tough stance on cities that refuse to cooeperate.

These policies, however, have their supporters. Earlier this year Texas attempted to legislatively coerce local enforcement into complying with federal immigration efforts through Senate Bill 4, which met swift protest from immigration rights advocates.

If you want to learn more about these “sanctuary city” issues and how they affect your rights don’t hesitate to talk to the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm to discuss your options. Call our offices today to schedule a consultation with immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.