State's Highest Court Considers Constitutionality Of Some Immigration Detainers

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John Adams Courthouse. (Joe Difazio/WBUR)
John Adams Courthouse. (Joe Difazio/WBUR)

Can local law enforcement agencies detain someone at the request of federal immigration authorities, or is that in violation of the Massachusetts state constitution?

That was the question before the state's highest court on Monday in the case of Commonwealth v. Lunn — a Cambodian national who was detained by state court officers at the request of federal immigration officials, even though Lunn's state criminal case had been dismissed.


Nancy Gertner, retired federal judge, Harvard law professor and WBUR legal analyst. She tweets @ngertner.

Shannon Dooling, WBUR reporter. She tweets @sdooling.

Interview Highlights With Shannon Dooling

On what the Supreme Judicial Court is being asked to consider

"This case is about how much authority local police and local courts have when it comes to honoring what are called, 'ICE detainers.' An ICE detainer is a voluntary request from the federal government to hold a person in custody whose criminal case has been settled — meaning that charges have been dismissed, they've posted bail, or their jail sentence has been completed ... And this is what's at question: Are local law enforcement and courts constitutionally allowed to do that? To hold someone, who otherwise is free to go, based solely on this request from ICE?"

On the arguments

"For the defendant in this case, the question is actually moot because he was in fact already taken into federal custody. But the SJC agreed to hear the case because it's a recurring issue ... [The lawyer for the defendant] says this isn't about who ICE can and cannot deport ... instead, she's asking the court to weigh in on whether local law enforcement and courts, when they hold someone for civil immigration matters, ... is that constitutional?"

At one point, Justice Hynes asked [the Commonwealth] to clarify exactly how the AG's brief differed from that of the defendant ... The answer is essentially the scope of what the court is being asked to consider."

This article was originally published on April 04, 2017.

This segment aired on April 4, 2017.


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Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.


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Kassandra Sundt was a Radio Boston producer and reporter at WBUR. She started at the station as a Here & Now intern in 2010.


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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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