STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — A press conference called by Republican lawmakers to outline new immigration enforcement legislation devolved into shouting Wednesday as activists opposed to the measure interrupted the event, drawing the attention of a county sheriff who supports the bill.

In an unsigned ruling on Monday, the state's highest court determined there is no legal authority for state and local officials to hold individuals solely at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"We are a nation of laws. And I just don't understand why we have politicians and activist judges who keep working to undermine the work of federal departments who are here to keep us safe," said Whitman Rep. Geoff Diehl, who plans to officially launch his U.S. Senate campaign on Aug. 1.

Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente, repeatedly interrupted Diehl, Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and other lawmakers showcasing a bill that would expand Bay State law enforcement's arrest powers.

Decrying policies around the country that limit law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration officials, Hodgson said, "This is not the America that our forefathers created for us. We are a country of laws."

As Montes and others talked over him, Hodgson said, "Ma'am, I'm not going to ask you again to stop interrupting me while I'm giving my statement."

Montes led a group of activists chanting "Keep hate ... out of our state."

The new bill filed by Andover Rep. James Lyons would grant law enforcement in Massachusetts the power to arrest and detain people on federal immigration detainers. It would also give Bay State law enforcement the authorization to enforce the laws of the United States, including immigration law, if they have probable cause to believe a violation has occurred. Under the bill, probable cause can be "based on the personal observations and belief of the officer, or may be based on information provided by reliable sources, including other federal, state or local law enforcement officers."

"The bill sends a clear message that Massachusetts is no longer a safe haven for people who violate our laws by entering our country illegally and will serve instead to honor the rule of law," Hodgson said.

Amy Grunder, director of legislative affairs for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, told the News Service the bill is "clearly unconstitutional."

Lyons said the bill was "100 percent" intended to address the SJC ruling.

Gov. Charlie Baker has appointed a majority of the justices on the seven-member Supreme Judicial Court.

Diehl said he was not accusing the Republican governor of appointing activist judges. "I don't think the governor had a litmus test for who he chose," Diehl told reporters at a State House press conference. He said, "I think Governor Baker chooses judges based on merit."

One of the more outspoken members of the 35-member House Republican caucus, Lyons said he would seek to advance the legislation "any way we can," including as an amendment to the budget or an immigration bill. Taunton Rep. Shaunna O'Connell, a co-sponsor, suggested an expected forthcoming justice reform bill could be a vehicle for the legislation, which had nine co-sponsors when it was filed Tuesday.

Lyons repeatedly asked Montes not to interrupt speakers at the press event held at the bottom of the stairs to Lyons's office, near the fourth floor entrance to the State House library.

A House court officer asked activist Patricia Montes to stop interrupting the press conference. Sam Doran/SHNS
A House court officer asked activist Patricia Montes to stop interrupting the press conference. Sam Doran/SHNS

After an official and a court officer stood in front of Montes and her handwritten sign reading "I support immigrants" - she moved out from behind them into the area between the cameras and reporters and the podium. Hodgson stepped out from his position near the podium, pointing and accusing Montes of blocking people who had been invited to the press conference.

"I'm not going to tell you again," Hodgson said.

"I'm not going to ask you for anything," Montes responded.

After taking some questions from the press, Lyons invited Montes to ask a question.

Montes asked Lyons for statistics on crimes committed by undocumented immigrants - which he said he would provide - and invited supporters of the bill to join immigration rights activists on a trip to Mexico and Central America.

Montes also went back and forth with Billerica Rep. Marc Lombardo.

"You can't even have basic respect for somebody who disagrees with you," Lombardo said. "This is very common to the left."

Montes asked Lombardo what was difference between recent immigrants and his ancestors who traveled to the United States from Italy.

"You are absolutely right it was different because my family followed the laws of the land," Lombardo said.

Lombardo also invoked Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, a vocal proponent of shielding people's immigration status from investigation by local authorities.

Lombardo said it has been an "unusual week" where he found agreement with the liberal Somerville mayor.

"Our agreement was on this. As a result of the SJC ruling, we both agree that Massachusetts is now a sanctuary state," Lombardo said.

--By Andy Metzger, State House News Service

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