The ACLU of Massachusetts is fighting back against cruel federal immigration practices and local anti-immigrant policies, and fighting for the rights of all Massachusetts residents to feel safe and free in their communities.
The ACLU has been at the forefront of several major legal struggles on behalf of immigrants’ rights, focusing on challenging laws that deny immigrants access to the courts, impose indefinite and mandatory detention, and discriminate on the basis of nationality. In 2014, we won a federal class action lawsuit challenging the government’s overuse of “mandatory” immigration detention to imprison non-citizens – many of them longtime, lawful permanent residents – without bond while their immigration cases are pending. As of January 2015, thanks to a court order in this case, many people have been released from immigration detention and reunited with their families.
In addition, we challenge constitutional abuses that arise from immigration enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels. In 2017, the ACLU of Massachusetts contributed to a case addressing whether local and state officials who hold undocumented immigrants on “ICE detainer” are in violation of the Massachusetts state constitution and the U.S. Constitution. In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court decided that our state and local law enforcement do not have the legal authority to detain people on ICE detainers alone.
When President Trump took office and began to enact his cruel anti-immigrant agenda, we were among his foremost challengers in the courts. In early 2017, our attorneys rushed to Boston’s Logan Airport to defend the rights of people subjected to the first Muslim travel ban. We secured one of the first rulings country to temporarily block this unlawful policy. Later, we filed major lawsuits challenging the “Remain in Mexico” program, reuniting families separated at the border from their loved ones. When the Biden administration continued to uphold this Trump-era policy, we continued to litigate to reunite families and end the policy once and for all. No matter who is in power, we will fight relentlessly for the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers.
Some of our most important cases challenged unlawful immigration policies that pre-dated Trump. In 2019, we secured a landmark victory to end a 20-year practice in New England of detaining immigrants by default, without a fair bond hearing. This ruling allowed potentially thousands of immigrants to be with their families while their cases proceed. The victory was affirmed with a 2021 ruling in a similar ACLU case at the First Circuit. In 2021, we also filed a lawsuit challenging the government’s practice of withholding records that may aid immigrants in the defense of their cases.
In Massachusetts, dozens of cities have implemented policies limiting local collaboration with federal deportation efforts. While each locality has decided for itself the scope of those limitations, the ACLU of Massachusetts – bolstered by its community partners and supporters – has worked in cities and towns to help immigrants feel safer and more welcomed. We advocated successfully for the Biden administration to end its ICE contract with the Bristol County Sheriff’s Department, which was notorious for reports of civil rights violations. We have also called for an end to 287(g) agreements, which deputize local law enforcement to act as federal immigration agents across Massachusetts. Finally, we filed lawsuits to protect detained immigrants who were at risk of contracting COVID-19.
On Beacon Hill, we continue to advocate for statewide measures that expand and uphold the civil liberties and civil rights of immigrants, and combat public and private discrimination against them.