A Court Just Said ICE Can’t Force Massachusetts to Detain Immigrants

This is huge.

Photo via AP

In a move that’s been called the first of its kind in the nation, a Massachusetts court has ruled that ICE can’t force local authorities to detain immigrants without arresting them.

The major decision comes from the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, which argued that police can’t hold someone who is undocumented on behalf of the federal government unless police arrest them for committing a crime. There’s nothing in state law that allows police in the state to keep someone locked up without charging them for a crime, even if it would help immigration authorities.

It’s set to be a hindrance in the state to the agenda of the Trump administration, which is trying to ramp up immigration enforcement with the help of local police, and is teeing up a major escalation in the fight over so-called “sanctuary” protections for immigrants in states and major U.S. cities.

In a statement, Attorney General Maura Healey calls it a “victory for the rule of law”:

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. 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.

All of this would change if state legislators come up with a new law that does authorize local police to detail people for immigration reasons, and a group of Republican state reps—Reps. James Lyons, Marc Lombardo, and Shaunna O’Connell—tell the State House News Service they are doing just that.

Not surprisingly, Tom Hodgson, the shock-jock sheriff from Bristol whose brand is crackdowns on immigrants, has stepped into the spotlight on this one and is reportedly working with state lawmakers. “I think it makes Massachusetts more vulnerable – the people who live here and people who visit here – more vulnerable to become victims of crime,” Hodgson tells the News Service, “and also a further message to people throughout the country who are here illegally that we’re the place you want to come.”

The decision came in response to a case involving a man named Sreynuon Lunn, who was born to Cambodian parents in a Thai refugee camp and brought here as an infant, and who had been sought by ICE for deportation after a robbery (the charges were later dismissed). He challenged his detention for hours at Suffolk County jail and has fought deportation to Cambodia.