Massachusetts immigrant ruling could guide other states: official

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BOSTON (Reuters) – A ruling by Massachusetts’ top court could influence other state courts to rule that police cannot detain illegal immigrants solely to give federal authorities time to take them into custody, state Attorney General Maura Healey said on Wednesday.

Healey, a Democrat who has been part of a loose coalition of state officials mounting court challenges to President Donald Trump’s administration, said the Monday ruling on civil immigration detainer requests, the first to cover a full state, showed the power of state-level challenges.

“We may see in other courts efforts to draw from that,” Healey said in a interview in her office.

“In this age of some really adverse actions and a lot of fear-mongering, frankly, by Donald Trump and (U.S. Attorney General) Jeff Sessions and others, it is important to make clear what the law here is and that no one is above the law.”

The Trump administration has stepped up immigration enforcement, threatening to deport the estimated 12 million people who have entered the country illegally, contending they raise crime rates and drain government resources.

The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has asked local police and courts to hold illegal immigrants who enter the justice system for up to 48 hours after their cases conclude to allow them to be taken into custody.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey listens to a question during an interview with Reuters at her office in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., July 26, 2017.Brian Snyder

Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court ruled that because the detainer requests are civil, rather than criminal, the detentions amount to unconstitutional arrests.

ICE said it was determining what next steps it might take after the ruling, saying it “weakens local law enforcement agencies’ ability to protect their communities.”

Healey said her office is preparing instructions for court officials and local law enforcement on responding to the detainer requests.

She dismissed the idea that the decision endangered public safety, saying the state continues to hold illegal immigrants who are wanted for criminal proceedings.

Keeping up federal focus on the issue, Sessions said on Tuesday the Justice Department would block federal grants to sanctuary cities that do not cooperate with immigration agents, including detainer requests.

Healey said the move would not change state policy.

“It’s wrong, it’s unlawful and we’ll see them in court if they intend to proceed on this front,” she said. “This reflects a callous disregard for the rule of law and for governance and for what it takes to run our cities our states and indeed our country.”

Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Trott