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 excludes the federal civil immigration detainers that are 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 that 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 that they would draft new legislation in response to the court decision, and Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson declared that 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 no cause other than 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 had proposed a bill called the Safe Communities Act prohibiting 287(g) cooperation agreements with ICE, under which officers at county jails can turn a suspected illegal immigrant over to federal authorities. In a separate effort, legislators attempted to include a “sanctuary state” proposal in the state budget.

All of the above 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 requests from ICE that illegal immigrants about to be released from county jails be detained, until they are taken into federal custody. On September 11, it was announced that the Massachusetts Attorney General had deemed the proposal constitutional.

A first round of signatures equal to 3 percent of total votes cast for governor is required to put an initiative before the Massachusetts state legislature. 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, should the legislature reject or decline to act on the proposed statute. In other words, this petition could make it possible to circumvent the Massachusetts state legislature

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

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.