Barnstable Sheriff’s Entanglement With Federal Immigration Officials Illegal

Immigrant Rights, Police Accountability

Barnstable Sheriff’s Entanglement With Federal Immigration Officials Illegal, Lawsuit Says

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

A statewide coalition of taxpayers filed a petition today directly in Massachusetts’ highest court, seeking to invalidate an agreement between the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that purports to allow the Sheriff’s Office to enforce federal immigration law.  

So-called “287(g) agreements” that entangle local officials with federal immigration enforcement have long been maligned, locally and nationally, as a significant source of fear for immigrant communities and a drain on state resources.  Barnstable County is the last remaining sheriff’s office in Massachusetts to maintain such an agreement with ICE.

Filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) and Rights Behind Bars (RBB), today’s petition asserts that Massachusetts sheriffs’ offices — which are funded by state taxpayer dollars — have no authority to enter into 287(g) agreements with ICE, nor to carry out the activities contemplated by them, including arrest, interrogation, and transportation of immigrants.  

“Use of the sheriff’s manpower and resources to conduct immigration enforcement represents an in-kind donation to ICE, over and above its congressional allocation.  It casts a shadow over a seasonal economy such as ours which relies on an immigrant workforce; and here on the other side of the jail’s walls, where people of color are already too easily maligned and mistreated,” said petitioner Wayne Bergeron of Cape Cod Coalition for Safe Communities, a group that has long advocated against 287(g) agreements.  “Barnstable’s 287(g) should be discontinued immediately, with resources recommitted to programs which do benefit our region.”  Bergeron noted that the Barnstable Sheriff’s Office, overseen by Sheriff James Cummings, has been plagued by excessive overtime in recent years.  

“Under Massachusetts law, the powers of sheriffs are very tightly circumscribed,” said LCR Litigation Director Oren Sellstrom.  “The State Legislature has wisely refused to authorize Massachusetts sheriffs to enter into agreements with the federal government for immigration enforcement, in light of the many serious problems caused by this entanglement.  Without that authority, the agreement and Sheriff Cummings’ ongoing expenditures under it are unlawful.”  

“Immigrant communities should feel safe in Massachusetts,” said RBB Litigation Director Oren Nimni. “287(g) agreements are harmful and wasteful  our petition asks Massachusetts’ highest court to declare them illegal as well.”

As recently as last year, two other Massachusetts sheriffs maintained 287(g) agreements with ICE.  However, in May 2021, the federal government terminated Bristol County’s 287(g) agreement, following LCR and RBB’s successful COVID-19 class action that led to the shuttering of Bristol’s immigration detention facility altogether.  And in September 2021, Plymouth County voluntarily terminated its 287(g) agreement with ICE, following a favorable ruling in a taxpayer lawsuit also brought by LCR and RBB.

Click here to download the petition.

The petition is available here: