Judge Orders Stop to ICE Courthouse Arrests in Massachusetts

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins announces her April 29 lawsuit in Boston, challenging the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy of arresting people at courthouses on civil immigration matters. Days earlier, federal prosecutors charged a judge and former court officer in Newton, Mass., with obstruction of justice for allegedly helping a man wanted by federal immigration authorities escape a courthouse. (AP Photo/Alanna Durkin Richer)

BOSTON (CN) – Directing immigration agents to stop arresting people in Massachusetts courts, a federal judge sided with prosecutors Thursday who say the threat of deportation should not deter people from participating in the justice system.

“The court credits [the government’s] safety concerns, as well as the public’s need to be protected from dangerous criminal aliens,” U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani wrote.  “But [its] attempt to justify civil courthouse arrests on these grounds, and on the fact that Massachusetts courts do not recognize civil detainers, and that federal, state and local law enforcement activity concerning criminal matters ‘routinely’ occurs in courthouses, ignores a critical distinction regarding the challenged arrests. Plaintiffs here seek only to enjoin civil, not criminal, arrests. Where ICE has an alternative route regarding targeted and dangerous aliens, namely, to pursue a criminal, rather than a civil arrest, the balance of harm and public interest support issuance of the injunction against civil arrests.”

During a live-streamed press conference Friday morning, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan emphasized that the Trump administration’s courthouse-arrest policy had been hindering her office.

“Our courthouses have always been viewed by our citizens as bastions of fairness, civility and safety,” Ryan said. “Anything at all that changes that perception should be intolerable for those who believe in what our country is founded upon.”

Ryan brought the challenge of courthouse arrests alongside Suffolk County District Attorney Rachel Rollins and the groups Chelsea Collaborative and the Committee for Public Counsel Service.

Issuing them an injunction, Talwani called it uncontested that “each day that the threat of ICE civil arrests looms over Massachusetts courthouses,” district attorneys and public defenders are unable to successfully perform their functions within the judicial system.

Absent relief, Talwani said that “some state criminal and civil cases may well go unprosecuted for lack of victim or witness participation.”

ICE began making courthouse arrests two years ago at the direction of President Donald Trump, upending years of legal tradition. DAs Rollins and Ryan say the effects of the policy have been dramatic across the state.

In their original complaint, the groups pointed to an uptick in immigrants defaulting in court, or refusing to testimony on behalf of others, since the courthouse arrests became more common.

“ICE will no longer prevent my office from seeking justice and accountability,” Rollins told reporters Friday. “I’ve see how parts of this community have been affected by ICE’s unilateral decisions to exceed its legal authority and arrest people inside of our courthouses.”

Representatives for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, have not returned an email seeking comment.

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