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Massachusetts law about immigration

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases, and web sources on immigration law.

Table of Contents

Best bets

Massachusetts legal help: immigration
Produced by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. Provides links to information about immigrants’ rights, planning for a family emergency, DACA, healthcare, education rights and more.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly INS)
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is an agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security that administers the country's naturalization and immigration system. Their website includes forms, case status updates, e-filing, and information on green cards and citizenship.

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.90, § 8 Operator's licenses; applications; examinations
The state offers 2 types of licenses, 1 of which complies with the REAL ID law for those who can provide proof of lawful presence.

MGL c.222, § 17 Notaries public not licensed to practice law; prohibition from offering legal advice or advertisement as legal specialist; immigration matters; real estate closings.

MGL c.278, § 29D Court must tell defendants making a plea of guilty, plea of nolo contendere, or an admission to sufficient facts about potential immigration consequences of their decision.

Massachusetts regulations

121 CMR Office for Refugees and Immigrants regulations

130 CMR 504 MassHealth: Citizenship and Immigration

Federal laws and regulations

Federal laws

8 U.S.C. Aliens and nationality

18 U.S.C. § 69 Nationality and citizenship

18 U.S.C. § 75 Passports and visas

The REAL ID Act of 2005, PL 109-13, Division B, Title II, 2005 

Federal regulations

6 CFR 37 Real ID driver’s licenses and identification cards

8 CFR Immigration regulations

28 CFR 44 Unfair immigration-related employment practices

84 FR 44392, Apprehension, processing, care and custody of alien minors and unaccompanied alien children, effective October 22, 2019.
This final rule amends regulations relating to the apprehension, processing, care, custody, and release of alien juveniles, effectively replacing the Flores Settlement.

84 FR 44537, Organization of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, effective August 26, 2019.
This interim rule delegates authority to the Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review to issue rulings in cases where appeals pending in before the Board of Immigration Appeals are not completed with specified timeframes.

84 FR 52357, Inadmissibility on public charge grounds, effective October 15, 2019
Please see
Injunction of the Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds Final Rule for information regarding the implementation of this ruling during the national health emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak

Court and rules

Immigration Court: Boston, Executive Office for Immigration Review, U.S. Dept. of Justice.

The Immigration Court practice manual
A guide for practice before the immigration court.

Selected cases

Commonwealth v. Gautreaux, 458 Mass. 741 (2011). 
Notification to consulate of arrest. "We conclude that the notifications required by art. 36 [of the Vienna Convention] must be provided to foreign nationals on their arrest; and, if not provided, a challenge to the soundness of any conviction resulting therefrom may be made in a motion for a new trial. The standard to be applied in such circumstances is the substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice standard, one that the defendant has not met in this case."

Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California, 591 U.S. ___ (2020).
United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that a 2017 U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) order to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program was "arbitrary and capricious" under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and reversed the order.

Finch v. Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority, 461 Mass. 232 (2012). 
Commonwealth Care health coverage for legal immigrants. "Section 31(a) [of St.2009, c.65 ] cannot pass strict scrutiny. The discrimination against legal immigrants that its limiting language embodies violates their rights to equal protection under the Massachusetts Constitution."

Lunn v. Commonwealth, 477 Mass. 517 (2017)
Police officers and court officers in Massachusetts lack the authority to hold a person under a civil immigration detainer, when that person would otherwise be released from custody.

Recinos v. Escobar, 473 Mass. 734 (2016)
Jurisdiction. The "Probate and Family Court has jurisdiction, under its broad equity power, over youth between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one for the specific purpose of making the special findings necessary to apply for special immigrant juvenile status pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act."

Reno v. Flores, 507 U.S. 292 (1993)
"Where a juvenile has no available parent, close relative, or legal guardian, where the government does not intend to punish the child, and where the conditions of governmental custody are decent and humane, such custody surely does not violate the Constitution." See also, the Flores Settlement, and The history of the Flores Settlement (2019).

Ryan v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Dist. Court Mass. (Civil Action No. 19-11003-IT), June 20, 2019.
Federal court issued a preliminary injunction barring ICE civil arrests of "parties, witnesses, and others attending Massachusetts courthouses on official business while they are going to, attending, or leaving the courthouse."


Immigration law help: Massachusetts. "An online directory of nonprofit organizations that provide free or low-cost immigration legal help. Users can search for organizations by state, county, or detention facility. Users can also refine their search by areas and types of legal assistance provided, populations served, and languages spoken."

ACLU Immigrant Protection of Western Massachusetts
The Immigrant Protection Project is a coordinated regional effort by attorneys and organizations to provide immigrants in Western Massachusetts with referrals for legal assistance and connections to other services. Contact information is available on the website.

Berkshire Immigrant Center
The Berkshire Immigrant Center serves over 800 immigrants and their families in Berkshire County each year by direct services, referrals, legal and procedural counseling, and general support free of charge or at below-market cost.

City of Boston immigration advancement resources
Do you need immigration advice from a lawyer? The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Advancement offers free immigration consultations on the first and third Wednesday of every month from 12 to 3 p.m. To schedule an appointment with a volunteer lawyer, call (617) 635-2980 or email Interpretation and disability accommodations are available, and consultations are 15 minutes.

Massachusetts Office for Refugees and Immigrants
ORI’s mission is to promote the full participation of refugees and immigrants as self-sufficient individuals and families in the economic, social, and civic life of Massachusetts. Eligible groups include: Afghan and Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa Holders, Amerasians, Asylees, Cuban/Haitian Entrants, Human Trafficking Victims, Legal Permanent Residents, and Refugees.

MIRA: Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
MIRA works “to protect and support the most vulnerable, especially those at risk of deportation, but also strive to expand opportunities for all foreign-born people and their children, so they can make the most of their talent and labor.”

Web sources

Adjustment of status for immigrant married to US lawful permanent resident, Nolo, 2016.
Includes handy instructions and checklist. Requires library card for access.

Planning for a family emergency: advice for immigrant families
Helpful information to help immigrant families prepare for an emergency. Includes information on how to fill out a caregiver affidavit authorization, with forms.

Attorney General guidance
The office of the Attorney General of Massachusetts provides guidance on 

Becoming a U.S. citizen: your guide to the law, exam & interview, Nolo, 2019.
Includes information on how to apply, preparing your application, taking the exam, and more. Requires free library card for access.

Citizenship works (Citizenshipworks is a collaboration between the Immigration Advocates Network, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and Pro Bono Net.)
"CitizenshipWorks provides easy-to-use online tools to help low and moderate-income individuals to answer important questions about their eligibility for naturalization, to better understand the naturalization process, and to prepare for the naturalization tests. The CitizenshipWorks toolkit includes:

  • An interactive online interview to help individuals to understand their eligibility for naturalization;
  • A self-paced interactive tutorial that explains the naturalization process step-by-step;
  • An online tutorial to help applicants prepare for the naturalization tests; and
  • Links to other resources and information about citizenship and naturalization available online."

Fiance & marriage visas: a couple's guide to U.S. immigration, Nolo, 2019.
Includes information on visas, green cards, income requirements, preparing the paperwork, and more. Requires library card for access.

Handbook for employers: instructions for completing the Form I-9, US Dept. of Homeland Security
Extensive document provides answers to key questions such as "What Happens if I Hire an Illegal Alien?"

How to get a green card, Nolo, 2020.
Includes information on time frames, getting a green card through marriage, child immigrants, visa lottery, consular processing, and more. Requires library card for access.

Immigrant's checklist to prove a bona fide marriage, Nolo, 2016.
"Prove that your marriage is valid when you apply to be a permanent resident of the U.S. using a marriage visa." Requires library card for access.

Immigrant youths, Mass. Law Reform Institute, 2016.
"If you are a child, teenager, or young adult who was born in another country, you probably have a lot of questions about the rules of immigration."  Includes frequently asked questions and answers.

Reconsideration of the June 15, 2012 memo entitled "Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion with Respect to Individuals Who Came to the United States as Children," US Dept. of Homeland Security, 2020.
A memorandum from the Department of Homeland Security outlining the current operation of the DACA program.

Same sex marriage and immigration, US Citizenship and Immigration Services
Explains how to sponsor a same-sex spouse in immigration.

The public charge final rule: FAQs for immigration practitioners, Catholic Immigration Network, January 30, 2020.
Explains recent final regulations issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which dramatically changed the assessment of public charge inadmissibility. Overall, the new regulations will make it much more difficult for an applicant for adjustment of status or admission to the United States to show that he or she is not likely to become a public charge. 

Understanding immigrants' eligibility for MassHealth & other subsidized coverage, Mass. Legal Services, 2020.
"Summarizes the current immigrant eligibility rules that MassHealth and the Health Connector use in making decisions about what kinds of coverage non-citizens with different kinds of status can receive."

U.S. immigration made easy, Nolo, 2019
Includes information on green card, eligibility, temporary visas, and more. Requires library card for access.

USCIS issues policy guidance clarifying how federal controlled substances law applies to naturalization determinations, USCIS, 2019.
Working in the cannabis industry, although legal in some states, would be a bar to establishing good moral character for citizenship.

Print sources

Immigration law and procedure, Bender, loose-leaf.

Immigration practice manual, MCLE, loose-leaf.



Within Massachusetts only

Within Massachusetts only


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Last updated: March 5, 2021