Sheriffs’ Entanglement With Immigration Officials Illegal, Taxpayer Lawsuit Says

Immigrant Rights

Sheriffs’ Entanglement With Federal Immigration Officials Illegal, Taxpayer Lawsuit Says 

28 Taxpayers Ask Massachusetts’ Highest Court To Declare 287(g) Agreements Unlawful

Taxpayers filed a petition directly in Massachusetts’ highest court seeking to invalidate entanglement agreements between county sheriffs and federal immigration officials. The case, Cofield v. McDonald, was filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights against the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Office, one of several entities with so-called “287(g) agreements” with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The unlawful agreements purport to allow local sheriffs to engage in federal civil immigration enforcement activities, including arrest, interrogation, and transportation of immigrants— but sheriffs have no such power under Massachusetts law. 

The petition asks the Supreme Judicial Court to invalidate and nullify the Plymouth County Sheriff’s agreement as unlawful under Massachusetts law and beyond the scope of the well-defined authority granted by the State Legislature to sheriffs. 

The challenged agreements have long been maligned, locally and nationally, as a significant source of fear for immigrant communities, and as a drain on state resources.  

In Massachusetts, sheriffs in Plymouth, Bristol and Barnstable counties have executed these unlawful agreements. The petition focuses on Plymouth County because its agreement is currently operational. Sheriff Thomas Hodgson of Bristol County is a particularly vocal proponent of unchecked immigration enforcement, including 287(g) agreements. But his agreement is largely inoperative. Injunctive relief secured by Lawyers for Civil Rights, WilmerHale, and the Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic at Yale Law School in Savino v. Souza, a class action pending in federal court in Boston, prevents Hodgson from admitting new people into immigration detention at the Bristol County House of Correction. 

The petitioners, a broad state-wide coalition of 28 taxpayers are challenging the agreements as an unlawful financial drain on state resources. The coalition is led by Juan Cofield, the President of the New England Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

“Right now, we are paying our law enforcement officers to do federal immigration enforcement with our scarce taxpayer dollars,” said President Cofield. “ICE has enviable resources at its disposal, including an annual budget of over $8 billion. We shouldn’t be diverting limited state money to federal immigration enforcement, especially when we need all available resources to get through the pandemic. It’s time we stand together as a Commonwealth to protect our communities and to stop illegal expenditures grounded in racism, bigotry, and xenophobia.”

“County sheriffs have no state authority to enforce federal civil immigration law,” said LCR Staff Attorney Oren Nimni, lead counsel for the taxpayers. “This taxpayer petition asks sheriffs to act within the authority that has been democratically granted by our State Legislature.”

“Here in Massachusetts — and in states like Arizona where sheriff Joe Arpaio conducted a campaign of terror against immigrants — we have seen that 287(g) agreements are harmful and wasteful. They are bad for immigrants and bad for all of us,” said LCR Executive Director Iván Espinoza-Madrigal

The petition was filed on the heels of two damning reports against 287(g) proponent Hodgson. 

The Massachusetts Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight recently found that Hodgson violated state law, which grants an absolute right to certain state officials to visit houses of correction, as well as his own internal policies and procedures, when he denied Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz entry to the immigration detention facility earlier this year. 

In connection with the same incident earlier this year that triggered Senator Chang- Díaz’s visit to the immigration detention facility, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey recently found that Hodgson violated the civil rights of immigration detainees.  

These alarming reports confirm the significant cost and liability generated by unchecked immigration enforcement through unlawful 287(g) agreements in Massachusetts. The taxpayer petition filed today is designed to end this abuse and terror. 

Click here to download the petition.