The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] on Monday that immigrants cannot be detained solely at the request of federal law enforcement officials. The decision comes out of Lunn v. Commonwealth, a case concerning a Cambodian refugee who was arrested for unarmed robbery in Boston last October. When the charges were dismissed because the prosecution failed to present a case, federal authorities issued a civil detainer request to hold Lunn for 48 hours until officers could take him into custody and begin the removal process. The court held that the request constitutes as an arrest as the individual in custody would otherwise be released due to a lack of pending charges. Under Massachusetts law, there is no authority to arrest and hold individuals for a civil matter such as an immigration detainer. Associate Justice Barbara Lenk [profile] wrote in the conclusion of the opinion,
The prudent course is not for this court to create, and attempt to define, some new authority for court officers to arrest that heretofore has been unrecognized and undefined. The better course is for us to defer to the Legislature to establish and carefully define that authority if the Legislature wishes that to be the law of this Commonwealth.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts [advocacy website] praised the decision [press release] as an important precedent and step towards passing the Safe Communities Act [materials], which is aimed at ensuring state resources are not used to enforce federal immigration law.
Legal issues concerning immigration rights continue to flood the judicial system. Since the election of US President Donald Trump [profile], some states and cities have proposed legislation to crackdown on sanctuary policies while some cities continue to stand behind their policies [JURIST op-ed]. Several cases concerning the Trump administration’s travel ban have been brought to the federal court system over the last several months, including a request for the Supreme Court to interpret the scope [JURIST report] of the order. In June the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP) [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] to challenge a recently passed bill, SB4 [text, PDF], which they claim unlawfully targets immigrants and defunds sanctuary cities. In May Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed [JURIST report] SB4 into law. Earlier that month the Mississippi Senate approved a bill [JURIST report] that will prohibit local sanctuary immigration policies.