BOSTON (CN) - Grilling attorneys about an undocumented immigrant kept in state custody for U.S. authorities, the highest court in Massachusetts noted Tuesday the breadth of the precedent that this case will set.
Justice Geraldine Hines was quick to curb the government’s emphasis on its power to deport “criminal aliens.”
“We have the right to look at the whole,” Hines said. “If this issue is capable of repetitive and expanding review, we’re entitled to look at that. Whether Mr. Lunn is a criminal alien or whatever, that’s kind of beside the point.”
A judge had ordered the deportation of Sreynuon Lunn in 2008, but Immigrations and Customs Enforcement released the man from its custody because Cambodia, his country of origin, declined to provide travel documents.
ICE did not miss a beat late last year when it learned that Lunn was facing robbery charges in Boston. It issued an immigration detainer request on the same day as his arrest and scooped Lunn up from state officials on Feb. 6, 2017 — hours after the trial court dismissed the case against Lunn for lack of prosecution.
The Supreme Judicial Court took up Lunn’s emergency petition for relief the next day, noting that "the case raises important, recurring, time-sensitive issues that will likely evade the full court's review in future cases.”
Lunn’s public attorney Emma Winger told the court that the state’s detention of her client violated the Massachusetts Constitution.
“Article 14 requires that all deprivations of liberty rests in the hand of the judiciary and the judiciary does not have its hands on immigration detainers,” Winger said.
“There’s no judicial oversight of the arrest itself,” she added.
Joshua Press, arguing on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice, said that Lunn’s detention was done in the spirit of cooperation between law enforcement agencies. He also argued that local authorities have the ability to detain individuals until legislation forbids it.
“Without having any sort of identified limit, then if the commonwealth or its officers, in this case the Boston Municipal Court, wants to cooperate with the federal government, we don’t see any problem with that,” said Press. “They have the authority in the absence of any legislative authorization.”
Lunn’s attorney disputed Press’s argument that local authorities have implicit authority to make immigration arrest.
“The idea that individual officers have implicit authority absent the legislature and the courts raises the sort of concerns about arbitrary arrest,” Winger said.
The state Attorney General’s office echoed this argument.
“There is no backdrop of implicit authority on behalf of law enforcement agents to make unwarranted arrests,” Assistant Attorney General Jessica Barnett said. “Massachusetts law does not authorization warrantless arrests for civil immigration violations.”
Press noted that the ICE retainers are wholly voluntary. “There are no federal demands being made,” he said. “This is a request from one law enforcement agency to another, to provide notice of release of that alien, or to hold him up to 48 hours to effectuate the removal of that alien from the United States.”
Lunn’s possible deportation comes at a time of great tension in the state, which has several so-called sanctuary cities and is considering a bill to become a sanctuary state.
Just last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned that any state that does not cooperate with immigration authorities will lose federal funding.