Bill Proposed by Massachusetts Governor to Toughen Law Enforcement over Immigrants

Charlie Baker, Governor of Massachusetts, filed legislation on the 1st of August as a response to an immigration ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court from the end of July. The legislation would allow local law enforcement to arrest some of the unauthorized immigrants as a request from the federal officials.

The filling letter says that the bill’s target is to close a “statutory gap” known as Commonwealth v. Lunn, the SJC ruling which dictates that law enforcement officers in Massachusetts at the moment do not have the authority to comply with detainer requests coming from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement under state law. Such an act would represent an illegal arrest.

Authority to detain immigrants

The governor’s legislation would ensure the local law enforcement officers the right to detain immigrants for up to 12 hours. It targets immigrants that would otherwise be released even though they are suspected of terrorism or have previous convictions for certain criminal activities such as domestic violence, felony offenses and even gang activity. In order to detain an immigrant for more than 12 hours a judicial review would be required.

Also, the bill stipulates that localities must nominate specific officers to watch over such detentions in advance and limits the detentions of immigrants taken into the custody of the state due to new charges or sentences that are not related to immigration status. According to the filling, officers “would not be empowered to proactively arrest people for immigration law violations”.

In a press release, Charlie Baker declared: “For years, many local police departments and the Trial Court have cooperated with ICE to ensure that they can detain violent and dangerous criminals, convicted of crimes like murder and rape, to keep our communities safe. This bill allows the State Police to honor specific detainers and provides local officials with the flexibility they need to set policies appropriate for their communities”.

Immigrant arrested and transferred to federal authorities

The idea was received by the Massachusetts’ highest court after an immigrant who was arrested by the Boston police due to larceny charges, Streynuon Lunn was arrested by a state court officer as a request from ICE and transferred to the federal authorities.

The detention was appealed by Lunn and even though he was released, the SJC agreed to hear the case in order to set up a precedent for similar cases in the future.

Baker’s legislation is the latest appeared in statewide debate regarding Massachusetts law enforcement’s authority to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Advocates for immigrant rights and state Attorney General Maura Healey consider the SJC ruling from the end of July to be a rejection of what they see as anti-immigration policies under the Trump administration.

The bill was criticized in a statement on the 1st of August by Marion Davis, the spokesperson of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition who said: “We are disappointed that Governor Baker has filed this legislation to override the Lunn decision. Certainly having a process for reviewing detainer requests is better than nothing, but this is still an unwise and counterproductive piece of legislation”.

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