Taxpayer Challenge To Sheriff’s Entanglement With Federal Immigration Officials Can Proceed

Immigrant Rights, Racial Justice

Judge Rules That Taxpayer Challenge To Massachusetts Sheriff’s Entanglement With Federal Immigration Officials Can Proceed

In a high-profile legal challenge to the ability of sheriffs in Massachusetts to enforce federal immigration law, a Superior Court judge has denied Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph McDonald’s attempt to dismiss the case, ruling that the taxpayer lawsuit may proceed.

The case was filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights and Rights Behind Bars in December 2020 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 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 April 2021, Sheriff McDonald asked the Court to dismiss the case, arguing that the petition filed by 28 taxpayers had no legal standing to challenge the 287(g) agreements, and that the Sheriff’s Office had the authority to enter into such agreements. In a ruling issued on July 29, 2021, Judge Daniel J. O’Shea soundly rejected the sheriff’s baseless arguments. Citing to legal precedent allowing taxpayer suits and sharply limiting the role of sheriffs in Massachusetts, the Court ruled that Sheriff McDonald’s argument “does not effectively refute the petitioners’ assertion that the current statutory scheme outlining the defendants’ powers to arrest and detain neither explicitly nor implicitly includes the authority to enter into 287(g) agreements.”  

The case will now proceed to a ruling on the merits. The petitioners, a broad state-wide coalition of taxpayers, are challenging the 287(g) 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).

The favorable decision is available here.