Lyons Illegal Immigrant Detainer Bill Snubbed By Beacon Hill Democratic Leadership

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By Colin A. Young

It was likely no surprise to state Representative James Lyons when the bundle of public safety budget amendments compiled by Democratic leadership for approval Wednesday was released without including one of his priorities.

Lyons, an Andover Republican, told radio talker Howie Carr on Tuesday that he was hoping to force the Massachusetts House to vote on a budget amendment (# 347) he filed to allow state and local law enforcement agencies to arrest and hold a person without a warrant if the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has issued an immigration detainer.

“What this law does is allows, if we stop someone who is here illegally and has an outstanding civil detainer, it allows us 48 hours to detain the individual so ICE can then come in and make a determination going forward,” Lyons said Tuesday on Carr’s radio show. “It’s simply a tool that allows our law enforcement folks to protect the public.”

The amendment does not appear to have been included in the consolidated amendment package of judicial and public safety proposals that emerged on the House floor just after noon Wednesday. It is unclear whether Lyons intends to seek to have his amendment considered on its own.

Last July, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in an unsigned opinion that state law does not allow law enforcement to hold defendants at the request of the federal government for immigration violations if the state or local authorities have no other legal reason to keep the person in custody.

Lyons said it is “just an outrage” that the Legislature has not taken any action to clarify what authority law enforcement officers have when it comes to immigration detainers, despite the state’s high court referring the question to lawmakers.

“The prudent course is not for this court to create, and attempt to define, some new authority for court officers to arrest that heretofore has been unrecognized and undefined,” the court wrote in its July 2017 ruling. “The better course is for us to defer to the Legislature to establish and carefully define that authority if the Legislature wishes that to be the law of this Commonwealth.”

Lyons said, “the fact that the Legislature has taken no action is clear evidence that they’re more interested in protecting folks who are here in this country illegally.” When Carr asserted that “illegal aliens have more rights than legal citizens,” Lyons heartily agreed.

“That’s exactly what we’re saying, that’s a fact in Massachusetts,” he said.

In February, state Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and state Representative Juana Matias (D-Lawrence) announced that they had reached a deal with two major police associations over compromise legislation that would allow local police to honor federal immigration detention requests for individuals with a history of committing violent or serious crimes.

That compromise has not been embraced by Governor Charlie Baker, who had put forward his own proposal to allow, but not require, police to honor a written request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold an individual for up to 12 hours if that person has engaged in or is suspected of terrorism or had been convicted of a serious felony.

Lyons, whose proposals do not always win support from his Republican colleagues in the House, said he is hoping to get a vote on his amendment but acknowledged that “it is absolutely not going to pass because the folks on the other side of the aisle believe that we should not be arresting people who commit crimes and holding them and deal with federal immigration officials to hold them and see what federal charges are outstanding against them.”