After more than three months in federal immigration detention, Sreynoun Lunn, a man at the center of a case before the state Supreme Judicial Court, is free.
Born to Cambodian parents in a Thai refugee camp, Lunn isn't recognized as a citizen by either country and both refuse to take him. Lunn was first ordered deported from the United States in 2008 and has been held by federal immigration officials at various points since then.
Lunn's criminal history in the U.S. includes a breaking and entering conviction. Most recently, the 32-year-old was back in district court in February facing larceny charges. The case was dismissed, however; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had issued a detainer requesting the court hold Lunn, even though his criminal charges were cleared and he was otherwise free to go. Lunn was taken into custody while federal officials pursued his deportation, until his release last week, which was first reported by The Boston Globe.
Lawyers for Lunn say he's been held without due process, arguing that according to a U.S. Supreme Court case, a person cannot be detained indefinitely if their country of origin refuses admission. Matthew Segal, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, says Lunn's prolonged detention amounted to a punishment.
"This is the fourth time that the government has placed Mr. Lunn in immigration detention since he was ordered removed from the country, and each time he wasn't removed because there's no place to send him," says Segal, "and holding someone in immigration detention when there's no reasonably foreseeable prospect of removing him is illegal."
Segal says Lunn's release, with conditions from ICE, could reflect on the legality of honoring ICE detainers, which is the question pending before the SJC.
"There is ample evidence from this case that state and local officials really ought to think twice before they agree to do what the government is asking them to do," says Segal.
Law enforcement officials are looking to the Commonwealth vs. Lunn decision for direction when it comes to the extent to which they are legally allowed to cooperate with federal immigration agents.