Press Release
February 8, 2017

Goodwin and Lawyers’ Committee File Legal Challenge to Trump Administration’s “Sanctuary Jurisdiction” Order on Behalf of Two Massachusetts Cities

Goodwin, a leading Global 50 law firm, and civil rights advocates Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice (“Lawyers’ Committee”) today filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration on behalf of Massachusetts sanctuary cities Chelsea and Lawrence. The lawsuit argues that the Administration’s Executive Order seeking to deprive so-called “sanctuary jurisdictions” of most federal funding is unconstitutional, calling it vague, coercive and an affront to federalism. The lawsuit seeks to block enforcement of the order and protect the rights of local jurisdictions to enact policies they believe promote public safety and confidence in local law enforcement.

The lawsuit, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, argues that the Trump Administration’s order constitutes a vast overreach by the executive branch as it seeks to impose penalties triggered by vaguely defined non-compliance with federal immigration policy, which were never authorized or approved by Congress. Further, it alleges that the language of the order is overbroad and ambiguous in that it both makes it impossible for municipalities to determine if they are considered “sanctuary jurisdictions” and allows for arbitrary enforcement of the order at the Attorney General’s discretion. Cities such as Chelsea and Lawrence depend greatly on federal funding for basic services such as the operation of schools and vital emergency services, and therefore the looming threat of the order’s enforcement paralyzes their ability to budget and govern effectively, the suit states.

Both Chelsea and Lawrence have majority Latino and immigrant populations, and significant percentages of their residents live below the poverty line. In fact, both cities are among the poorest communities in Massachusetts. Like many other jurisdictions, Chelsea and Lawrence have enacted policies that direct local law enforcement officials to treat all residents equally, regardless of immigration status. These policies are meant to engender trust between a municipality’s law enforcement and its local population, and studies have shown that victims and witnesses of crimes are much less likely to come forward if they fear deportation. The lawsuit argues that such statutes and policies do not violate federal immigration law, and therefore the Administration has no basis for its order.

“The separation of powers and local self-government – and equal protection under the law – are at the very foundation of our governmental and legal systems, and this order disregards both of them,” said Elaine Herrmann Blais, partner and head of Goodwin’s Boston Litigation Department. “It is critical that we not only defend the rights of many undocumented immigrants in these communities, but also the legal principles that are the bedrock of our society. The Executive Branch cannot issue orders promising the threat of federal retribution – financial or otherwise – to effectively dictate local policy without legislative approval.

“The federal government continues its efforts to trample the rights of minorities and immigrants and to pursue its agenda of thinly cloaked discrimination. It is our responsibility to stand up and protect the rights that define us as a society and are enshrined in our Constitution,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee. “It is not enough for this Administration to detain and interrogate refugees and immigrants at airports – now it seeks to punish, through executive action, communities that are lawfully protecting their residents. We are taking this civil rights struggle from the street to the courtroom to compel the federal government to comply with the rule of law."

Community organizations serving the needs of immigrants in sanctuary communities praised the litigation and have expressed strong support for the sanctuary cities challenging the unconstitutional Executive Orders. “The Chelsea Collaborative is proud to stand with sanctuary communities. The families and children we serve avail themselves of these local protections. We invite other organizations to join us in supporting this important case,” said Gladys Vega, the Executive Director of the Chelsea Collaborative.

The lawsuit asks the court to declare the Executive Order unconstitutional and to establish that the Plaintiff cities are in full compliance with federal immigration law.

About the Lawyers’ Committee

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice (Lawyers’ Committee), a non-partisan, non-profit organization, was formed in 1968 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. For more information about the Lawyers’ Committee, visit us at and follow us on Twitter at @LawyersCom_MA.