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State's High Court Slams Brakes on Immigration Detainers

Police and court officers now need more than just an ICE detainer to hold a person in custody, according to a ruling from the state's highest court. (Picssr/Flckr)
Police and court officers now need more than just an ICE detainer to hold a person in custody, according to a ruling from the state's highest court. (Picssr/Flckr)
July 25, 2017

BOSTON – It is being called a setback for federal immigration agents. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling Monday that clarified what had been a murky issue for many local police departments.

Laura Rotolo, counsel and community advocate for the ACLU of Massachusetts, says the state's highest court sent a clear message that local authorities need more than a piece of paper from the feds to arrest people and hold them in detention.

"Well, it means that going forward, police and court officers cannot be detaining people when they receive an ICE detainer unless there is something more, like a criminal charge - and it just means our law in Massachusetts doesn't allow that," she explains.

The case involved a Cambodian refugee who had been arrested in Boston. The U.S. Justice Department maintains the 48-hour detainer requests are typical of normal cooperation between various law-enforcement agencies.

Rotolo says a handful of officers, including a few who work for Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, can still arrest and detain because they have arrest powers under a federal program.

She adds that for the vast majority of police and court officers, the new ruling draws a clear red line that they can't keep detaining people solely based on a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer.

"Just sort of honoring them and detaining a person based on this piece of paper, but as it turns out, that piece of paper is just an administrative document about the person possibly being deported; and it doesn't give the state the authority to actually arrest that person and hold them in detention," she says.

Rotolo says law-enforcement agencies across the state currently get hundreds of ICE detainers per year. The case is Lunn versus Commonwealth.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - MA