Mass. police can't use ICE detainers to arrest, SJC rules

BOSTON — Massachusetts police cannot hold people in jail on immigration detainers, the state’s Supreme Juridical Court has ruled.

The case stems from a challenge on behalf of Sreynuon Lunn, 32, a refugee and convicted felon who was jailed on an ICE detainer while officials worked on his deportation.

Lunn was jailed in October on unarmed robbery charges, which were eventually dismissed. He was kept in jail on an immigration detainer, which is a federal civil order for immigration officers to arrest a person for deportation.

But the Supreme Judicial Court has ruled people with federal detainers cannot be held in state custody based on that detainer – essentially saying the state does not have the right to execute a federal detainer.

The Supreme Judicial Court wrote in the ruling that holding someone on the federal detainer constitutes an arrest.

Lunn was ordered released from jail in May as officials work to determine his country of origin. The Department of Homeland Security has designated it as Cambodia, but the country denies Lunn is a citizen.

Lunn was born in a Thai refugee camp to Cambodian parents fleeing the Kmer Rouge. He came to the U.S. as a 7-month-old child and given permanent resident status.

“This court decision sets an important precedent that we are a country that upholds the constitution and the rule of law,” The Massachusetts ACLU said in a statement Monday. “At a time when the Trump administration is pushing aggressive and discriminatory immigration enforcement policies, Massachusetts is leading nationwide efforts by limiting how state and local law enforcement assist with federal immigration enforcement.”

Mass. Governor Charlie Baker last year allowed state police to temporarily detain some people wanted by federal immigration authorities.

In its ruling, the SJC said immigration detainers are “not criminal detainers or criminal arrest warrants.”

“They do not charge anyone with a crime, indicate that anyone has been charged with a crime, or ask that anyone be detained in order that he or she can be prosecuted for a crime,” the court wrote.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.