Bristol County sheriff acts to prevent Massachusetts from becoming a sanctuary state

On July 24, 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Massachusetts court officers cannot hold a suspected illegal immigrant in custody unless they have a criminal warrant or criminal detainer. This precludes honoring the civil immigration detainers served by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, when they believe that state or county jails are about to release an illegal alien from custody.

In their decision, the court noted they had refrained from attempting to define some new authority for court officers to make an arrest, opting instead to defer to the state legislature to establish that authority, if they wished to do so.

Dueling legislative proposals, all of which went nowhere

Several Massachusetts state representatives immediately announced they would draft new legislation in response to the court decision, and Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson declared he would team up with them. Thomas Hodgson had earned notoriety early in January 2017 by offering to help then President-elect Donald Trump build a border wall by sending Massachusetts inmates to work on its construction.

That bill would have allowed local law enforcement officers to arrest and detain a person for the sole reason of their immigration status, or the officer’s suspicion regarding their status. One week later, Republican Governor Charlie Baker filed legislation that would have permitted local law enforcement to detain illegal aliens at the request of federal officials, although it didn't go as far as the first bill in empowering local officers to enforce federal immigration law.

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers proposed a bill called the Safe Communities Act, which prohibited 287(g) cooperation agreements with ICE. Under a Section 287(g) agreement, officers at county jails are empowered to perform certain federal immigration law enforcement functions. In a related effort, legislators attempted to include a “sanctuary state” proposal in the state budget.

All these attempts to legislate immigration policy failed, due to a lack of consensus.

19-15 Petition for a Law to Prevent Massachusetts From Becoming a Sanctuary State

Anti-illegal immigration forces in Massachusetts have petitioned for “anti-sanctuary state” legislation, and their petition is likely to wind up as a proposal on the 2020 state ballot. The proposal would allow police to honor ICE requests that illegal immigrants scheduled to be released from jail be held over so they can be taken into federal custody. On September 11, it was announced that the Massachusetts Attorney General had deemed the proposal constitutional.

To place a proposed ballot initiative before the Massachusetts state legislature, a first round of signatures equal to 3 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor is needed. In cases where the legislature rejects or declines to act on the proposed statute, a second round of signatures equal to 0.5 percent of the votes cast for governor in the most recent election is required to put the measure on the ballot.

In other words, this new petition could make it possible to circumvent the Massachusetts state legislature and appeal directly to voters.

To reach out to voters occupying the political middle-ground, extended detention on behalf of ICE could exceed 12 hours only when a state court determined that probable cause existed to believe that the detainee was subject to deportation. Additionally, state and local agencies would “opt in” to the new policy, if they chose to do so, instead of being compelled to adopt it.

Support from political and legal officials

The ballot petition was signed by prominent Massachusetts officials, including Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe, Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph McDonald, Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, other sheriffs, state lawmakers, mayors and an official from the state Department of Corrections.

Since President Donald Trump's inauguration, Thomas Hodgson has been an ally and a staunch supporter on the question of illegal immigration.

September 5, 2018, White House: Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson thanks President Donald Trump for his support of law enforcement and presents him with a plaque and badge.

March 15, 2019, White House: President Donald Trump signs his first veto, to protect his emergency declaration for border wall funding. Thomas Hodgson was standing behind Attorney General William Barr and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during the ceremony.

Update: Wednesday, December 4 was the deadline for submitting signatures in support of ballot initiatives in Massachusetts. Backers of the petition to prevent Massachusetts from becoming a sanctuary state failed to submit signatures by the deadline.

Disclaimer: Information on this website is not legal advice.