scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Baker proposes bill to tighten immigration enforcement

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

In response to a Supreme Judicial Court ruling on immigration last week, Governor Charlie Baker filed legislation Tuesday that would permit local law enforcement to detain certain unauthorized immigrants at the request of federal officials.

According to the filing letter, the bill aims to close a “statutory gap” identified in Commonwealth v. Lunn, the SJC ruling that determined that Massachusetts law enforcement officers do not currently have the authority under state law to comply with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detainer requests because doing so would amount to an illegal arrest.

Baker’s legislation would grant local law enforcement officers the right to hold immigrants who would otherwise be freed but are suspected of terrorism or have prior convictions for specific criminal offenses — including gang activity, felony offenses, and domestic violence — for up to 12 hours. Holding a person beyond that time frame would require judicial review.


The bill also stipulates that localities must designate specific officers to supervise such detentions in advance, and limits the detentions to immigrants who are taken into state custody on new charges or sentences unrelated to their immigration status. Officers “would not be empowered to proactively arrest people for immigration law violations,” according to the filing.

“For years, many local police departments and the Trial Court have cooperated with ICE to ensure that they can detain violent and dangerous criminals, convicted of crimes like murder and rape, to keep our communities safe,” Baker said in a press release. “This bill allows the State Police to honor specific detainers and provides local officials with the flexibility they need to set policies appropriate for their communities.”

The issue came before Massachusetts’ highest court after Streynuon Lunn — an immigrant arrested by Boston police on larceny charges — was held by a state court officer on an ICE detainer and transferred to federal authorities.


Lunn appealed his detention and although he was released, the SJC agreed to hear the case to set a precedent for future cases.

The legislation is the latest in a statewide debate over whether Massachusetts law enforcement should have the authority to cooperate with ICE. Immigrant rights advocates and state Attorney General Maura Healey hailed the SJC ruling last week as a rejection of what they consider to be anti-immigrant policies under President Trump.

In a statement Tuesday, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition spokesperson Marion Davis criticized Baker’s new bill. “We are disappointed that Governor Baker has filed this legislation to override the Lunn decision,” she said. “Certainly having a process for reviewing detainer requests is better than nothing, but this is still an unwise and counterproductive piece of legislation.”

Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, in a statement raised concerns that the bill violates due process, and aids Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

“Last week’s Lunn decision by the court was a major victory for the residents of Massachusetts against the Trump deportation machine,” she said. “Why Governor Baker would attempt to aid Donald Trump is unsettling — as both a legal and political matter.”

Two Democratic challengers to Baker’s 2018 reelection bid, Newton Mayor Setti Warren and Jay Gonzalez, released statements on Tuesday, condemning the bill and tying Baker’s stance on immigration to Trump’s.

“Police in Massachusetts should not be a part of Donald Trump’s deportation force,” Warren said. “Our neighborhoods are less safe when people who feel like they have to live in the shadows are afraid to talk to the police when they need help or witness a crime.”


Gonzalez said that immigration enforcement is “not the job of state and local law enforcement, nor should it be.”

A spokeswoman for Healey said the attorney general’s office is reviewing the bill.

The governor’s bill is the second piece of legislation filed by Republican lawmakers in reaction to the Commonwealth v. Lunn decision. The first, a bill filed by several state representatives last week, goes further than Baker’s — it would allow local law enforcement to arrest and detain a person solely based on their immigration status, or the officer’s personal suspicion of that status.

State Representative James J. Lyons, Jr., one of the cosponsors of that bill, said he and Baker are working toward the same goal. “The governor and my colleagues are on the same page. Our number one goal is to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth,” he said. “I think this is a definite positive step and we look forward to working with the governor to get legislation in place that will address the concerns of the SJC.”

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, a vocal proponent of increased state cooperation with ICE, called Baker’s bill “a huge step.”

“I congratulate the governor for filing the bill,” he said in an interview.

But Hodgson criticized the opt-in approach Baker’s bill proposes, which requires cities and towns to issue a written policy indicating their intention to honor ICE detainers.


Hodgson also said he plans to lobby Baker and Daniel Bennett, Massachusetts’ secretary of public safety, to eliminate some of the bill’s restrictions — particularly the 12-hour detention period.

Meanwhile, state senator James B. Eldridge said he and Democratic colleagues will ramp up their efforts to push the Safe Communities Act through the Legislature. That bill — which would prohibit local law enforcement from cooperating with ICE — has 96 cosponsors, meaning nearly half of the state’s 200 legislators have signed on in support. Gonzalez reiterated his endorsement of the legislation on Tuesday.

State Senator Michael Moore, the Senate chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security, said that if the clerk’s office referred Baker’s bill to the committee, legislators would review it and hold a public hearing.

Claire Parker can be reached at Reach her on Twitter @ClaireParkerDC.