Immigrant At Center Of Landmark SJC Ruling Is Arrested

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The man at the center of a landmark Massachusetts court decision on immigration detention has been charged with unarmed robbery and assault and battery.

Thirty-two-year-old Sreynoun Lunn was arraigned Wednesday at Boston Municipal Court after he and a co-defendant allegedly took "$2,000 by force from a 65-year-old woman in a wheelchair," according to Jake Wark, a spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney's office. The incident occurred Tuesday in Boston's West End.

Lunn was the plaintiff in a case that made national news in July when the state Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled that local law enforcement do not have the authority under Massachusetts statutes to detain a person based solely on a civil request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

A so-called ICE detainer is a request to hold a person in custody whose criminal proceedings have been settled and who is otherwise free to go.

In the case of Lunn, larceny charges against him were dismissed in February, but ICE officials asked Suffolk County officials to hold him in custody for up to two days while they pursued deportation. Lunn, who had a prior conviction on breaking and entering charges, was then detained by ICE for three months, but ICE was unable to deport him; born to Cambodian parents in a refugee camp in Thailand, neither country recognizes Lunn's citizenship, and under a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case, Zadvydas v. Davis, ICE cannot detain someone indefinitely.

Lunn was released back into the community in May.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for stricter immigration policies, says Lunn's case -- and his release -- reveal several vulnerabilities in our immigration system.

"This case illustrates the problems that arise from the Zadvydas ruling of the Supreme Court and the lack of a public safety exception to allow ICE to hold people when their countries won't take them back," she said. Vaughan added that "the problem is that they end up being sent back to the community and have the opportunity to re-offend. This is a crime that could have been prevented."

Vaughan says Lunn's recent arrest, which was first reported by The Boston Herald, also illustrates the vulnerabilities of sanctuary policies.

But Lunn was not released as the result of any so-called sanctuary city policy. He was in fact held by local officials at ICE's request while the agency tried to deport him to Cambodia or Thailand. It was only when his deportation was denied that ICE was forced to release him based on the Zadvydas precedent.

Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said you cannot draw a straight line from the SJC decision to Lunn's most recent arrest.

"As much as the anti-immigrant forces will try to politicize the arrest of Mr. Lunn, it has nothing to do with the Supreme Judicial Court case about his unlawful detention," she said. "He is a man with no country and the Constitution, you know, applies to everyone no matter where they were born. So, [ICE] cannot keep people indefinitely and that's why ICE released him."

Millona said she recognizes Lunn is subject to the same laws that govern everyone in the community.

"He [allegedly] committed a crime, he has to suffer the consequences. He's under the custody of the police and they should do their job," Millona said.

Lunn will appear in court again on November 8.

A judge imposed $2,500 cash bail on Lunn. A spokesman for the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department said Monday afternoon that Lunn remains in custody.

This article was originally published on October 16, 2017.

This segment aired on October 16, 2017.


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



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