BOSTON (CN) — In a major ruling against President Trump’s immigration policies, Massachusetts’ highest court on Monday found it illegal for the state’s law enforcement agencies to hold suspected undocumented immigrants without criminal charges “solely on the basis of a federal immigration detainer.”
The Supreme Judicial Court acknowledged it is lawful for local authorities to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, provided their actions are allowed under state law, but said that holding someone on behalf of ICE whom the state could not otherwise legally hold, constitutes illegal arrest.
“Nothing in the statutes or common law of Massachusetts authorizes court officers to make a civil arrest in these circumstances,” the court wrote in a per curiam opinion.
Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have threatened to withhold federal funding from city and state jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with ICE detainer requests.
But in remanding to Suffolk County Court with orders to dismiss, the Supreme Judicial Court concluded: “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.”
Sreynuon Lunn was arrested in 2016 and charged with unarmed robbery. He was never convicted because the state was never able to produce its sole witness – the homeless man whom Lunn allegedly robbed.
The charges were dropped and Lunn would have left court a free man had ICE not requested that the Boston Municipal Court held him until they could arrive to arrest and deport him.
Lunn had been ordered deported in 2008, but was released from custody when Cambodia, his country of origin, declined to provide travel documents.
When ICE learned that Lunn was facing robbery charges in Boston, it issued an immigration detainer request on the day of his arrest and scooped him up from state officials on Feb. 6, 2017 — hours after the trial court dismissed Lunn’s case.
That was when the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts stepped in to defend him.
“This court decision sets an important precedent that we are a country that upholds the constitution and the rule of law,” ACLU state executive director Carol Rose said in a statement.
“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 immigrant neighbors, and we call on the Massachusetts Legislature to protect all of Massachusetts’ communities by passing the Safe Communities Act.”
Although Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey argued against ACLU before the Supreme Judicial Court, her office also celebrated the ruling, which it called the first statewide decision in the nation on the lawfulness of detaining someone on behalf of federal immigration authorities.
“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,” Healey said in a statement.
“As my office argued in this case, Massachusetts law protects our residents from illegal detention and prevents the federal government from forcing local law enforcement to make decisions contrary to the public safety interests of their communities. This decision allows local law enforcement to focus their resources on keeping people safe.”