Attorneys representing a group of Massachusetts taxpayers say the Plymouth County Sheriff's Department is engaged in an illegal agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to carry out immigration enforcement activities.
The lawsuit, filed Monday by Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR), said the department, under the leadership of Sheriff Joseph McDonald Jr., signed a contract with ICE to engage in arrests, detentions and interrogations of people suspected of being in the country without documentation.
"I think people should be, frankly, pretty disturbed," said Oren Nimni, a staff attorney at LCR. "Local county sheriffs agreeing to enforce federal civil immigration law ... these aren't things that we voted on and decided are OK. They're just agreements that county sheriffs undertook to sign because they wanted to, and they're using taxpayer money to do federal immigration enforcement."
According to a draft copy of the complaint reviewed by WBUR, LCR stated the agreement was made under the auspices of section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
ICE's website described the 287(g) program as one that "enhances the safety and security of communities by creating partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies to identify and remove aliens who are amenable to removal from the United States."
The Plymouth County Sheriff's Department has engaged in such agreements with ICE for the past few years, the lawsuit claimed. In the most recent agreement, the first paragraph stated that "ICE delegates to nominated, trained, certified, and authorized [law enforcement agency] personnel the authority to perform certain immigration enforcement functions as specified herein."
Such functions listed in the agreement include:
- The power and authority to interrogate any person detained in the participating law enforcement agency's detention center who the officer believes to be an alien about his or her right to be or remain in the United States;
- The power and authority to serve and execute warrants of arrest for immigration violations;
- The power and authority to serve warrants of removal;
- The power and authority to prepare charging documents;
- The power and authority to detain and transport arrested aliens subject to removal to ICE-approved detention facilities;
- The power and authority to issue immigration detainers.
The agreement further stated that ICE will furnish training, as well as certain information technology, to the local agency. Day-to-day costs — such as salaries, benefits, and transportation for local participants — would be the local agency's responsibility, however.
LCR's lawsuit contends the agreement is illegal, and therefore void, because it purports to allow the sheriff's office to take actions that fall outside the bounds set forth by Massachusetts law.
In response to a WBUR email seeking comment on LCR's lawsuit, the department's public information officer said that its general practice is not to comment on pending litigation, or at least not to comment until their response has been filed in court.
Unlike contracts where the federal government pays local law enforcement to detain individuals, Nimni said, there doesn't seem to be a significant financial incentive for local sheriff's departments to participate in a program like this.
Instead, "here, there seems to be no other incentive other than a political motivation," Nimni said.