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Massachusetts Supreme Court: “No Authority” For State Officials to Honor ICE Detainers

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The Massachusetts Supreme Court has ruled that the police practice of keeping immigrants locked up for the sole purpose of complying with ICE detainers is in violation of state law. The decision is yet another rebuke to the Trump Administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who have been pushing for greater police cooperation with ICE detainers across the country.

The Court rejected the federal government’s argument that local police have an “inherent” or “implicit” authority to make immigration arrests. As the Court wrote:

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.

ICE detainers and the issue of so-called “sanctuary cities” have been a hot-topic issue throughout the Trump presidency. An executive order against sanctuary cities was one of the first that Trump signed into law when he became president; a federal judge blocked the order in April. Jeff Sessions has repeatedly threatened cities and counties with the loss of federal funding if they enact “sanctuary” policies — but he has left officials confused by how exactly he defines the term. Court rulings in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Oregon, and Texas have already ruled that immigration detainers are unlawful — and a coming case in Florida could shape national policy on detainers.

This ruling, like the anti-detainer rulings before it, leave the Administration in a bind because it has repeatedly told cities and jurisdictions to toe its line on sanctuary policies. But reports have shown that so-called sanctuary cities are safer for both immigrants and non-immigrants, and courts have repeatedly found that detaining immigrants for ICE when there’s no cause for them to be held is unconstitutional. In short, there’s just no basis for what Trump, Sessions, and Republicans want to enact when it comes to mandating detainer compliance with ICE.

The case was brought by the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Committee for Public Counsel Services. As Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of NIJC, said in a statement:

Today’s decision reaffirms the fundamental principle that when the government detains someone, it should be pursuant to a judicial warrant based on probable cause for the detention. It is ironic that the government argues that the deportation laws must be enforced without any mercy, but when laws require immigration authorities to provide fair process, they try to take short cuts.

Read more about sanctuary cities and detainers here.