The Boston Bar Association applauds the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (SJC) for clarifying state law regarding the authority of state and local law enforcement to detain individuals on behalf of federal immigration officials. The Court’s decision in Lunn v. Commonwealth (SJC-12276) supports important protections by holding that detention of an individual who would otherwise be released is tantamount to an arrest—without the protections afforded to other arrestees and for no investigatory purpose—and that court officers are not authorized to make such an arrest under either state statute or common law.
Although, as the SJC notes, there may be occasions when the state may hold someone on suspicion of a federal immigration offense, the detainer used in this case lacked sufficient information about the alleged offense to justify a civil arrest and failed to provide any indication that probable cause existed to suspect the plaintiff of a criminal offense. Massachusetts law spells out limited circumstances when such an arrest may be made, and, after careful and thorough consideration, the SJC found that the facts of this case did not meet that test.
It is well-established that the federal government cannot compel states to comply with detainer requests and that if a state were to do so, it would in effect be making a warrantless arrest. Lawyers for the federal government acknowledged as much in the Lunn case. Now the SJC has stepped in to ensure that, at least in Massachusetts, no resident of the Commonwealth may be held against their will by the state solely based on the request of federal immigration officials.