Victory! Sheriff Ends Entanglement With Federal Immigration Officials

Immigrant Rights, Police Accountability

Following Landmark Ruling in Taxpayer Lawsuit, Massachusetts Sheriff Announces He Will Terminate Entanglement With Federal Immigration Officials 

Following an adverse ruling in a high-profile legal challenge to the ability of Massachusetts sheriffs to enforce federal immigration law, Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph McDonald announced today that he is terminating his office’s “287(g) agreement” with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The lawsuit that led to this result was filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights and Rights Behind Bars in December 2020 against the Plymouth County Sheriff’s Office, one of a dwindling number of Massachusetts entities with 287(g) agreements.  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.  

“Sheriff McDonald has made the right move by terminating this unlawful agreement,” said Oren Sellstrom, Litigation Director of Lawyers for Civil Rights.  “287(g) agreements have long been maligned, locally and nationally, as a significant source of fear for immigrant communities, and as a drain on state resources.”

“This is an excellent result for immigrant communities in Massachusetts,” said Oren Nimni, Litigation Director of Rights Behind Bars.  “The message is now clear: local and state entities should stop using their resources to conduct federal immigration enforcement activities.”  

In July 2021, Plymouth County Judge Daniel J. O’Shea ruled that the taxpayer lawsuit could proceed, calling into question the sheriff’s authority to enter into the agreement.  Citing legal precedent that sharply limits 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.”  

In response, Sheriff McDonald today announced that he would terminate the agreement.  The petitioners, a broad state-wide coalition of taxpayers, challenged the agreement 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).

As a result of a different lawsuit brought by LCR and RBB and other organizations, the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office’s 287(g) agreement was terminated earlier this year. The legal and community victories in Massachusetts are serving as a powerful blueprint for activism surrounding the closure of immigration detention facilities nationally.