Rollins, rights groups sue ICE
Lawsuit takes aim at agents’ practice of making civil arrests in courthouses
Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins and Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan joined a federal lawsuit Monday that would bar Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers from arresting people in and around Massachusetts courthouses for civil immigration violations.
The two district attorneys joined the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Chelsea Collaborative in the lawsuit, which comes a year after ICE officials issued a directive to agents instructing them to make arrests in courts. The district attorneys said in a press conference that the presence of immigration officials in courts makes victims, witnesses and others seeking help afraid to appear.
“Since taking office, I’ve watched serious criminal cases of individuals accused of violent, heinous crimes grind to a halt because of a civil arrest by ICE,” Rollins said. “As prosecutors, we cannot fulfill our statutory obligation to victims of crimes when ICE unilaterally engages in civil arrests.”
The lawsuit seeks an injunction from the U.S. District Court barring the practice on the grounds that it violates the 10th Amendment, which limits federal authority in state matters.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit say that the instance of these courthouse arrests have gone up in the last two years, since President Donald Trump took office.
“Federal ICE agents have been regularly stalking our state courthouses in communities throughout Massachusetts for the last two years,” said Wendy Wayne, director of CPCS’ Immigration Impact Unit. “When criminal defendants, witnesses and civil litigants are arrested by ICE before their cases are resolved, or avoid the courthouses because of fear of ICE arrest, access to justice is denied for everyone.”
Ryan explained that the practice also affects people not involved in criminal cases, but who are seeking help from the courts in other matters.
“The result of this fear that keeps people from exercising their right to come to court is that victims suffer in silence, people continue to be abused in their homes, witnesses who may have seen something happen to any one of us or a member of our family … are forced to choose between the protection of themselves and their family and their civic duty to come forward,” she said.
Rollins noted that she is in support of the civil arrest and deportation of convicted violent criminals by ICE, but only after they have been held accountable and served their time.
“I am not asking nor am I intending to interfere with the federal government when they engage and exercise their lawful authority,” Rollins said. “I simply ask that they pay us the same respect and not interfere with ours.”
She has also instructed her prosecutors to inform her whenever ICE agents are present in a courthouse. Asked by reporters whether she fears being arrested, Rollins said she does not.
“If I am, it would be my honor to be, because we need to stand up and be very, very bold about this ridiculous behavior that our president is engaging in right now,” she said.