Wall Street Journal
By Laura Meckler
July 24, 2017
The highest court in Massachusetts dealt a fresh legal blow Monday to the Trump administration’s effort to compel local authorities to assist in its crackdown against illegal immigration.
The state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Massachusetts court officials can’t hold people in jail simply because the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency requests it.
ICE routinely issues these requests, called detainers, to local officials asking that they hold for up to 48 hours people who are suspected of being in the U.S. illegally. The Trump administration has labeled those that don’t comply “sanctuary” jurisdictions and is looking for ways to compel cooperation.
While the decision applies only to Massachusetts, several federal appellate courts have issued similar rulings undercutting ICE’s authority. In addition, a federal court has blocked parts of a Trump executive order aimed at punishing sanctuary cities.
Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley didn’t address the decision directly in a statement, but he urged cities to cooperate with detainees to protect public safety.
“The attorney general has made clear that these so-called ‘sanctuary policies’ intentionally undermine our immigration laws by protecting illegal aliens who have committed crimes,” he said.
Many jurisdictions nationwide cooperate on immigration enforcement, but other cities and counties decline to honor detainers for both policy and legal reasons.
The administration and its allies argue that it is wrong for jails to release people who are known to be undocumented and that turning them over to federal authorities for possible deportation prevents them from committing crimes. Opponents say that immigrant communities won’t trust local police if they are seen as agents of immigration enforcement.
The Massachusetts court ruled that keeping people in custody beyond their scheduled release amounts to an arrest and that nothing in federal or state law gives court officers authority to detain someone based on their immigration status. The court also noted that being in the U.S. without authorization is frequently a civil violation, not a criminal one.
“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 court wrote in its decision in the case, Lunn v. Commonwealth.
The case involved Sreynuon Lunn, who was arraigned on a count of unarmed robbery last fall. His case was dismissed but, because of a pending ICE detainer, he remained in jail and was then transferred to federal custody. He remained in the U.S. because of trouble deporting him.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey celebrated the result, which she said was the first statewide decision on the matter.
“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,” she said in a statement.
The Trump administration also is pushing legislation that would cut federal funding for jurisdictions that decline to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. That bill has passed the House but faces a tougher road in the Senate.
Write to Laura Meckler at email@example.com
Appeared in the July 25, 2017, print edition as ‘ICE Detainers Illegal, State Court Says.’
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com