Detainer bill would needlessly entangle police in ICE matters

ICE agent arrest
An ICE agent arrests an immigrant believed to be subject to deportation. Wikimedia Commons

The governor wants to give police the authority to hold people for ICE. Call him today – and call your legislators to urge them to kill this wrongheaded bill.

Last month, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that police and court officers in our state don’t have the legal authority to detain anyone solely on a civil immigration matter.

It was a landmark decision that made national news: Massachusetts leading the way, standing up for civil rights and due process and rejecting the anti-immigrant policies that have stoked fear in our communities.

But where we saw cause for celebration, Gov. Charlie Baker saw a problem to be solved. On Aug. 1, he filed a bill to allow police across the state to honor civil detainer requests from U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) for any “removable alien” deemed to pose a threat to public safety.

The bill would authorize, but not require, state and local police to honor ICE detainers, and would require agencies seeking to use this authority to adopt a policy similar to the one followed by the Mass. State Police before it was invalidated by the Lunn vs. Commonwealth decision. Under that policy, the State Police detained 27 people for ICE between July 1, 2016, and July 11, 2017; they also denied 13 requests.

Take action today!

1. Call the Governor’s office at 617-725-4005 to register your opposition.

2. Call or email your legislators (find them here) and urge them to kill the bill, and support the Safe Communities Act instead.

3. Write an op-ed or letter to the editor for your local newspaper. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you’d like help or guidance.

4. Help us spread the word by sharing this article, our Boston Globe op-ed, or (for policy wonks) this explainer.

In a letter to the Legislature, the Governor said he wants to let police decide for themselves how much they should cooperate with ICE, “focusing our efforts on those who have been convicted of serious crimes such as murder, rape, domestic violence and narcotics or human trafficking.”

But the bill is actually much broader – and completely unnecessary.

Police can already keep dangerous criminals behind bars – by charging them with actual crimes. They can also notify ICE if a violent felon is about to get out of jail. But as the SJC explained, holding someone for ICE is an arrest. And an arrest without probable cause of a crime and due process is unconstitutional.

And it applies not just to undocumented immigrants, but to any immigrant that ICE thinks is deportable. That could be someone who’s lived lawfully in this country for 25 years, but who spent a few months in jail when he was 18.

“This is an unwise and counterproductive bill,” said Marion Davis, director of communications at MIRA. “We don’t need legislation to encourage police to do ICE’s job and violate people’s constitutional rights. We need the opposite: the Safe Communities Act, a bill to uphold due process and make us all safer by ensuring that our police are there to protect us, not to arrest immigrants for ICE.”

Learn more: Read our op-ed in the Boston Globe, listen to a discussion on WBUR with the ACLU’s Carol Rose, or watch a BNN interview with MIRA’s Marion Davis.