Baker Bill Would Allow Officers To Honor Certain ICE Detainers

Gov. Charlie Baker speaks to the reporters during a January press conference. (Steven Senne/AP)
Gov. Charlie Baker speaks to the reporters during a January press conference. (Steven Senne/AP)

Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday filed legislation that would authorize state and local law enforcement to detain certain individuals based on requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The bill is in response to last week's landmark decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which ruled that state law does not provide statutory authority to police and court officers to hold someone based solely on a request from ICE.

In a statement announcing the new legislation, Baker said that local authorities have cooperated with ICE in the past "to ensure that they can detain violent and dangerous criminals, convicted of crimes like murder and rape, to keep our communities safe.”

The Baker administration last week had said it was "exploring legislative options" following the SJC's ruling in the Lunn v. Commonwealth case.

According to the statement, Baker's bill would not authorize local law enforcement to "enforce federal immigration law." As noted in the SJC decision, state law does not grant local court officers and law enforcement the authority to hold someone who otherwise would be free to go, simply because ICE officials have requested the detention.

This legislation, then, seeks to authorize, but not require, state and local law enforcement to honor specific ICE detainers for "aliens who pose a threat to public safety."

In the statement, Secretary of Public Safety and Security Dan Bennett said that detention authorized by the bill would be "limited to aliens already independently in state custody because of new state criminal charges or sentences."

Bennett said the "bill does not empower state or local police to proactively arrest people for immigration law violations; it would allow police to detain a person who is a threat to public safety for a limited period of time if that person were about to be released and the federal authorities were unable to immediately take the person into their custody.”

Carol Rose, executive director of the Massachusetts chapter of the ACLU, calls the governor's bill constitutionally suspect.

"This is really a pretend security measure," she told WBUR. "By saying we're only going to take away the constitutional rights of people that we've deemed dangerous, it somehow makes it seem constitutional or acceptable, and that's simply not true."

The bill would mandate that any detention in excess of 12 hours would be subject to judicial review.

Emma Winger is an attorney and argued Sreynoun Lunn's case before the SJC. She says she's disappointed by the new legislation.

"I think the most striking thing about it is that the governor presents it as a narrow bill that only addresses people with serious criminal records, when in fact it's a very broad bill that covers people with very minor criminal charges or perhaps very old criminal charges," Winger said.

In a statement, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, a Democrat, said he and his team "have just begun reviewing" the Republican governor's bill.

"I want to hear from constituents, legal experts, and the relevant legislative committees," Rosenberg said.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo's office says the bill "will be referred to committee and reviewed."

This article was originally published on August 01, 2017.


Headshot of Shannon Dooling

Shannon Dooling Investigative Reporter
Shannon Dooling was an investigative reporter at WBUR, focused on stories about immigration and criminal justice.



More from WBUR

Listen Live