Mass. high court’s im­mi­gra­tion rul­ing has ma­jor law en­force­ment ef­fects

Civil lib­er­ties ad­vo­cates, fed­eral hard­lin­ers at odds

Woonsocket Call - - Region/obituaries - By STEVE LEBLANC

BOS­TON — A court rul­ing that for­bids po­lice of­fi­cers in Mas­sachusetts from hold­ing a per­son based solely on a fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion de­tainer re­quest is prompt­ing calls for ac­tion from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum on Bea­con Hill.

A closer look at the rul­ing, which the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union said was the first of its kind in the U.S., and what might hap­pen next:


The orig­i­nal case fo­cused on Sreyn­uon Lunn, 32, who was born in a Thai refugee camp to Cam­bo­dian par­ents flee­ing the Kh­mer Rouge and brought to the United States as a 7month-old. He was legally al­lowed into the coun­try as a refugee.

In Oc­to­ber Lunn was ar­raigned on an un­armed rob­bery charge in Bos­ton Mu­nic­i­pal Court. At the time, the U.S. De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity is­sued a civil im­mi­gra­tion de­tainer against him.

The state charge was dis­missed on Feb. 6, but a judge re­fused to free Lunn and court of­fi­cers kept him in a court­house hold­ing cell un­til an im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer took him into fed­eral cus­tody. His lawyers ap­pealed, say­ing his de­ten­tion based solely on the re­quest by fed­eral of­fi­cials was un­con­sti­tu­tional. Lunn is no longer in fed­eral cus­tody.


On Mon­day, the state's high­est court sided with Lunn's at­tor­neys on the larger is­sue of whether Mas­sachusetts po­lice of­fi­cers have the author­ity to de­tain some­one sus­pected of be­ing in the U.S. il­le­gally if that per­son is not fac­ing crim­i­nal charges.

"The ques­tion be­fore us," the court wrote, "is whether Mas­sachusetts court of­fi­cers have the author­ity to ar­rest some­one at the re­quest of Fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties, pur­suant to a civil im­mi­gra­tion de­tainer, solely be­cause the Fed­eral au­thor­i­ties be­lieve the per­son is sub­ject to civil re­moval."

The an­swer is "no," ac­cord­ing to the court.

The jus­tices said there's no state law al­low­ing Mas­sachusetts court of­fi­cers "to ar­rest and hold an in­di­vid­ual solely on the ba­sis of a fed­eral civil im­mi­gra­tion de­tainer be­yond the time that in­di­vid­ual would oth­er­wise be en­ti­tled to a re­lease from state cus­tody."


The rul­ing has been hailed by or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, who said a de­ten­tion like Lunn's amounts to an un­law­ful ar­rest. Repub­li­cans and con­ser­va­tives say the rul­ing makes it harder for po­lice to work with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials.

In re­sponse, a group of Repub­li­can law­mak­ers filed leg­is­la­tion that would give po­lice of­fi­cers broad power to ar­rest and hold an in­di­vid­ual, with­out a war­rant, if the of­fi­cers have a law­ful­lyis­sued im­mi­gra­tion de­tainer re­quest from the U. S. De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity.

Repub­li­can Rep. Shaunna O'Con­nell, of Taun­ton, ar­gued the leg­is­la­tion is needed to send a mes­sage that Mas­sachusetts won't be­come "a safe haven for il­le­gal im­mi­grants."


Repub­li­can Gov. Char­lie Baker is work­ing on his own re­sponse.

On Thurs­day, Baker said he be­lieves that when it comes to peo­ple who have com­mit­ted vi­o­lent crimes like rape or mur­der, po­lice should be able to hold those in­di­vid­u­als — pos­si­bly for 24 hours — so fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties can pick them up.

Baker said he plans to file leg­is­la­tion as soon as this week that will give po­lice in Mas­sachusetts the abil­ity "to hold vi­o­lent, dan­ger­ous crim­i­nals for some pe­riod of time" if in fact fed­eral of­fi­cials be­lieve they have im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus is­sues.

In the mean­time, Baker said, "we can still com­mu­ni­cate with the feds, we can still tell them we have some­one in cus­tody who is very dan­ger­ous."


Sup­port­ers of the court de­ci­sion are urg­ing law­mak­ers to take a very dif­fer­ent ap­proach.

They want the Leg­is­la­ture to adopt the "Safe Com­mu­ni­ties Act," which would sharply limit co­op­er­a­tion be­tween fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials and state and lo­cal law en­force­ment agen­cies.

Sup­port­ers say the bill would im­prove pub­lic safety by re­as­sur­ing those in the state il­le­gally that they can talk to lo­cal po­lice.

ACLU of Mas­sachusetts Di­rec­tor Carol Rose said the court rul­ing gives law­mak­ers an op­por­tu­nity to pass the bill, which she said will "send a clear mes­sage that Mas­sachusetts stands with our im­mi­grant neigh­bors."

Baker op­poses the bill.

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