Proposed Immigration Enforcement Law Headed for State House Wednesday
Wednesday morning, State Representative James Lyons (R-Andover) will be leading a press conference on the steps of the State House to formally introduce legislation being filed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives that would allow local and state law enforcement to work with federal immigration authorities to detain suspected illegal immigrants wanted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Working with Lyons on the bill are fellow Republican Representatives Shaunna O'Connell of Taunton and Marc Lombardo of Billerica, as well as Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson. The bill is in direct response to Monday's ruling by the State Supreme Judicial Court that law enforcement should not hold illegal immigrants based on civil detainer orders from ICE.
"(The Supreme Judicial Court) said in their comments that the route they want to take is to defer to the legislature to establish and define that authority (to work with ICE), so that is exactly what we are going to do," Rep. O'Connell told WBSM's Barry Richard.
O'Connell noted that illegal immigrants are draining billions of dollars each year from Massachusetts alone, and that the SJC's ruling only furthers the notion that Massachusetts is a so-called "sanctuary state" for illegal immigrants.
"No one wants to see Massachusetts become a safe harbor for illegal immigrants," she said. "Word is going to get out, 'Go to Massachusetts, law enforcement officer's hands are tied. They're not going to be able to do anything to you.' That's going to make Massachusetts more of a magnet that it already is for illegal immigration, as well as for criminals that want to avoid detection and detention."
Laura Rotolo, Staff Counsel and Community Advocate for the ACLU of Massachusetts, told WBSM's Brian Thomas that there's no need for the proposed legislation for law enforcement to be able to hold illegal immigrants because immigration is a civil matter, not a criminal one.
"They're just requests," Rotolo said of detainer orders. "Our police and our court system don't have legal authority under Massachusetts law to hold people on those requests. When asked, the federal government couldn't point to a single law that would authorize our local police to detain people on the detainers. It was just sort of standard practice, and nobody had questioned it up until recently."
Rotolo said that aside from being a huge setback in terms of protecting immigrants in the community, the proposed law could be ruled unconstitutional.
"You're depriving a person of their liberty, putting them in a jail cell without committing a crime, and that's unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment," she said.
But Sheriff Hodgson told Thomas that illegal immigrants who are issued a removal order by ICE have 90 days to comply, before the civil immigration infraction becomes a felony.
"Under that felony, there's no issue around a civil detainer," Sheriff Hodgson said. "Because it's a criminal offense."
Hodgson said that even before it reaches felony status, law enforcement should be able to hold illegal immigrants if ICE asks them to do so.
"When a federal law enforcement agency says, 'Look, we have reason as to why we need this person detained,' that ought to be honored by any law enforcement agency," he said. "We're all in this together, and we're working to keep our communities safe."
Once the bill is formally introduced, expect a lot of debate and discussion on the floor. There is ardent opposition to the idea of state and local law enforcement partnering with ICE, led by none other than Representative Antonio Cabral of New Bedford. He's already been going head-to-head with Hodgson on the issue for months now.
"Common sense would tell you this should easily get through the legislature, but common sense doesn't always prevail on Beacon Hill," O'Connell said.