The Massachusetts Legislature is debating a bill that would allow — but not require — local police departments to detain individuals who are solely wanted on federal immigration holds. The bill has the support of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R).
Why were police in Massachusetts not already allowed to do this?
During the Obama administration, Massachusetts police had an informal policy that allowed them to comply with federal immigration detainer requests. However, in July, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that police lacked the authority under Massachusetts law to hold prisoners for violations of federal law, and that to do so would constitute an illegal arrest.
The ruling, which was the first in the country to declare that local police could not hold prisoners on an immigration detainer without an express state law allowing them to do so, provided legal cover for Massachusetts cities that wanted to act as "sanctuary cities."
Under the proposed bill, local law enforcement would be allowed to hold illegal immigrants who are a "threat to public safety," as well as those who have been convicted of certain crimes. Police would be able to hold these individuals for 12 hours at their discretion; after 12 hours, detainees would be entitled to judicial review to ensure compliance with the law.
Baker denied that the proposed bill was in response to pressure from President Donald Trump or his administration, who have threatened to withhold funding from cities and states who refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials.
The bill's future in the Massachusetts Legislature is uncertain at this time.