Filed Date: Feb. 8, 2017
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On Feb. 8, 2017, a petitioner filed this case in the Supreme Judicial Court for the County of Suffolk, Massachusetts. Represented by counsel at the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Committee for Public Counsel Services, petitioner sued the respondent Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
In his Mar. 2, 2017 brief, petitioner alleged he is a noncitizen arraigned by local law enforcement in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, on a criminal charge. While he was in custody, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a detainer on him, though he had no access to that document. The trial court dismissed his criminal case due to want of prosecution. Nevertheless, the trial court declined to release him from state criminal custody, and had court officers continue to hold him pursuant to the ICE detainer. Petitioner filed an emergency petition for release. Several hours past the time he normally would have been released, ICE agents arrived and took him into ICE custody. Although the trial court (the Suffolk County Superior Court) then found petitioner's emergency petition moot, one judge on the trial court reported the matter to the state's Supreme Judicial Court. This judge suggested that the Supreme Judicial Court consider the legality of a court's mandating that law enforcement hold an individual in custody, after they would otherwise be released, solely on the basis of an ICE detainer. Particularly, the judge noted that this was was a frequently recurring and important problem that might otherwise evade judicial review, given the 48-hour time limit on ICE detainers.
Petitioner likewise asked the Supreme Judicial Court to consider this issue on the merits. Petitioner alleged that by honoring ICE detainers to hold individuals past their normal release time, courts mandate state and local law enforcement to carry out a new, unlawful, and unconstitutional arrest for federal civil immigration purposes, in violation of the Tenth Amendment, the Immigration and Nationality Act, and state law. Furthermore, because ICE detainers require no judicial oversight, no showing of probable cause before seizure, and no fair notice, petitioner alleged that detainers violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments as well as analogous sections of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.
On Feb. 17, 2017, the Suffolk County Sheriff moved to intervene on behalf of respondent. The Sheriff was concerned that if a court ordered the Sheriff to hold an individual pursuant to an ICE detainer, the Sheriff would need to violate the Tenth and Fourteenth Amendments and sections of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.
On Mar. 10, 2017, counsel from the Department of Justice informed the court that DOJ was considering whether to file an amicus brief by Mar. 27.
On Mar. 20, 2017, counsel from the ACLU of Massachusetts, the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, the Federal Immigration Appeals Project, criminal defense organizations, immigration law scholars, legal clinics at Harvard and Boston University, and private counsel, filed amicus briefs on behalf of plaintiff.
Also on Mar. 20, 2017, respondent Commonwealth and intervenor-respondent Suffolk County Sheriff filed a brief. Respondents argued that ICE detainers are voluntary and not mandatory, and thus not in conflict with the Tenth Amendment. Furthermore, while respondents saw ICE detainers as raising serious constitutional concerns under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, they also argued that Massachusetts state law does not authorize detention solely on the basis of an ICE detainer (if unsupported by a warrant or probable cause of civil removability). Respondents stated, therefore, that the court need not reach the constitutional questions.
DOJ on Mar. 27-29, 2017 requested permission to file an amicus brief (in support of neither party) and to participate in oral argument. The court on Mar. 31 granted these requests. DOJ's amicus brief argued that states may temporarily hold noncitizens subject to a final order of removal in response to an ICE detainer, and that such holds do not violate the Fourth Amendment.
Oral argument was held on Apr. 4, 2017. Afterward, on Apr. 13, DOJ submitted to the court a post-argument letter.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on July 24, 2017 issued a ruling, holding that "Massachusetts law provides no authority for Massachusetts court officers to arrest and hold an individual solely on the basis of a Federal civil immigration detainer, beyond the time that the individual would otherwise be entitled to be released from State custody." 477 Mass. 517.
In its reasoning, the Court clarified that an ICE detainer is civil and not criminal, because it relates only to the immigration removal process. Second, a detainer is voluntary and not federally mandated, per the INA and the Tenth Amendment. However, a requested detention as in this case constitutes an arrest under Massachusetts law, because the individual is held for 48 hours after being entitled to release from state custody. The court officers who arrested petitioner did so without a warrant or other situation permitting his arrest under state criminal or even civil law. Therefore, since they arrested him based solely on a federal civil immigration detainer, they had no authority to do so under Massachusetts common or statutory law.
Furthermore, the Court rejected several of DOJ's arguments. The Court disagreed with DOJ that Massachusetts officials have "inherent authority" to carry out detention requests made by federal detainers, and specified that Massachusetts officials' arrest powers are limited by state law. Also, the Court interpreted INA § 287(g) (8 U.S.C. § 1357(g)) as allowing but not mandating state cooperation with federal immigration enforcement in making arrests.
The Court then remanded the case to the county court to dismiss petitioner's case as moot and to enter a judgment consistent with the ruling.
In news reports on the ruling, the Massachusetts AG commented that this appears to be the first such decision by a state high court, interpreting state law to limit state compliance with civil immigration detainers.
This case appears to be closed.
Ava Morgenstern (7/25/2017)
Barnett, Jessica V. (Massachusetts)
Colb, Sara A. (Massachusetts)
Amdur, Spencer (New York)
Ameri, Laila (Massachusetts)
Ardalan, Sabrineh (Massachusetts)
Lenk, Barbara A. (Massachusetts)
Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 2:14 p.m.Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.
State / Territory: Massachusetts
Filing Date: Feb. 8, 2017
Case Ongoing: Unknown
Noncitizen held in Massachusetts state criminal custody after his criminal charges were dismissed, pursuant to an ICE detainer, and then taken into ICE custody.
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
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Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
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