Gov. Charlie Baker asked Massachusetts lawmakers on Tuesday to grant state and local police officers authority to cooperate with federal immigration officials by holding people considered dangerous or who have committed violent crimes.
The bill was filed Tuesday in response to a decision issued last week by the state's highest court that is considered the first of its kind in the nation by the American Civil Liberties Union. The justices ruled that current Massachusetts law does not allow police and other law enforcement officers to hold individuals solely on the basis of a federal immigration detainer request.
The proposal would not authorize police to enforce federal immigration law, the Republican governor said, but would instead address a "statutory gap" identified in the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling and reinstate policies that had previously been followed in Massachusetts.
"I have long believed and repeatedly said that local officials are in the best position to decide whether and to what extent they should cooperate with the federal government on immigration detention matters," Baker wrote in a letter to House and Senate members.
The bill, he said, would allow "violent and dangerous criminals" who face deportation to be held if a valid federal detainer request has been issued.
"It authorizes, but does not require, state and local law enforcement to honor detention requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement for aliens who pose a threat to public safety," Baker wrote.
To be labeled as such a threat, a person would have to be suspected of terrorism or espionage, actively involved in a criminal street gang or convicted of a felony such as murder, rape, drug trafficking or human trafficking. But it could also apply to people who have been convicted at least twice of drunken driving or who served at least six months in prison for any offense.
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The ACLU, which had praised the court's decision as a victory against President Donald Trump's stepped-up deportation efforts, called the governor's proposal "constitutionally suspect," since police could detain people without due process.
"Why Governor Baker would attempt to aid President Trump is unsettling - as both a legal and political matter," said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, in a statement.
Marion Davis, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said her group considered the legislation "unwise and counterproductive," arguing that even after the court ruling police still have the ability to notify ICE when a convicted violent felon was about to be released from custody.
A group of Republican legislators filed a bill last week that would give police officers broader powers to arrest and detain people for federal immigration officials. Baker has said he prefers his approach.
The court ruled in the case of 32-year-old Sreynuon Lunn, who was detained by Massachusetts court officers in February even though criminal charges against him had been dismissed. Lunn was born in a Thai refugee camp to Cambodian parents fleeing the Khmer Rouge and brought to the United States as a 7-month-old. He was legally allowed into the country as a refugee and given lawful permanent resident status.