The illegal immigrant whose case turned Massachusetts into a “sanctuary” state is behind bars yet again.
Police say he committed a stunning daylight robbery by taking a wheelchair-bound woman, slapping her and stealing the $2,000 she had just carried out of the bank.
Sreynuon Lunn had been free on the streets of Boston because his home country won’t take him back, leaving immigration officers no choice but to release him under a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
His case gained headlines over the summer when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that state and local authorities could no longer legally hold immigrants for pickup by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Now ICE is trying to decide whether to try again to pick up and deport Lunn, even as he faces local charges from the latest robbery.
“The first, obvious problem is that Lunn is here at all. He should be removed to either Cambodia or Thailand, but apparently neither country will take him,” said Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, which wants stricter immigration controls.
A 65-year-old wheelchair-bound woman told police that Lunn and a female companion wheeled her away from a bank where she had just withdrawn $2,000, then robbed her. After the woman told Lunn to stop, he responded with an expletive, slapped her in the face and fled, according to the police report. The woman’s son and others witnessed the assault.
Lunn told police that he robbed the woman because he was detoxing and needed money for drugs. He blamed his companion, identified as Tiffany Bovio, for the idea of the robbery.
Immigrant rights advocates said Lunn’s latest arrest amounts to a local crime report that doesn’t merit much attention.
“I’m not going to comment on the charges against Mr. Lunn except to say that under U.S. law, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. If he did actually commit a robbery, the criminal justice system will put him in prison after giving him his due process,” said Eva A. Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. “However, one thing that is crystal-clear is that the arrest of Mr. Lunn has nothing to do with the Supreme Judicial Court case about his unlawful detention.”
The court ruled in July that Massachusetts law enforcement officers could not hold illegal immigrants just to give ICE agents a chance to pick them up for deportation.
“Massachusetts law provides no authority for Massachusetts court officers to arrest and hold an individual solely on the basis of a federal civil immigration detainer, beyond the time that the individual would otherwise be entitled to be released from state custody,” the state high court ruled.
The justices said deportation is a civil proceeding, not a criminal matter, and while there are some cases in which police can detain someone without a criminal charge — drunks, deadbeat parents and “sexually dangerous persons” — that doesn’t apply to illegal immigrants or others eligible for deportation.
Lunn has been under a final order of deportation since 2008, but ICE has been unable to oust him. He was born to Cambodian parents in a refugee camp in Thailand, and Cambodia refuses to recognize him as a citizen.
ICE agents tried to deport Lunn again this year, taking custody after a previous robbery charge, but were again rebuffed by Cambodia and had to release him after more than three months.
Under the 2001 Zadvydas v. Davis ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, the government cannot detain migrants for immigration violations beyond six months, except in cases involving national security or severe mental health problems.
Thousands of people — many with serious convictions on their records — are released from ICE custody each year thanks to the Zadvydas ruling. In one notorious case, a man who served time for attempted murder was released onto the streets after Haiti refused to take him back, and months later he killed a young woman in Connecticut after a drug dispute with her boyfriend.
President Trump this month called for Congress to amend the law to change the Zadvydas ruling and said he wants to crack down on sanctuary cities.
Ms. Vaughan said both are needed.
“This case illustrates exactly why Congress needs to pass legislation that clarifies that state and local law enforcement agencies may and should honor ICE detainers and warrants,” she said. “We’ve seen enough examples of released criminal aliens who go on to harm more people. Enough already.”