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Federal judge bars ICE from courthouse arrests

ICE presence seen interfering with court work

Trea Lavery
Federal judge bars ICE from courthouse arrests
CPCS General Counsel Lisa Hewitt, LCR staff attorney Oren Nimni, Chelsea Collaborative Executive Director Gladys Vega, District Attorney Rachael Rollins and District Attorney Marian Ryan. PHOTO: COURTESY LAWYERS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction barring officers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement from civilly arresting people who are attending court in courthouses across the state, a decision which will free up access to the courts for undocumented immigrants.

“Plaintiffs have made an unrebutted showing that each day that the threat of ICE civil arrests looms over Massachusetts courthouses impairs the DAs and [Committee for Public Counsel Services] ability to successfully perform their functions within the judicial system, and Chelsea Collaborative’s members’ ability to enforce legal rights,” Judge Indira Talwani wrote in her decision. “Absent an injunction, some state criminal and civil cases may well go unprosecuted for lack of victim or witness participation.”

The federal lawsuit was filed in April by District Attorneys Marian Ryan of Middlesex County and Rachael Rollins of Suffolk County, along with the Chelsea Collaborative and CPCS.

The groups brought the lawsuit due to increased ICE activity in courthouses since 2017. They said that because of the threat of arrest, many residents were afraid to come to court to testify as a witness or victim of a crime or access other court services.

“Yesterday’s order allows those seeking to assert their civil liberties, as well as witnesses and victims of crimes, to emerge from the shadows and enter the doors of all Massachusetts courthouses free from fear of deportation,” Rollins said at a press conference the day after Talwani issued her ruling. “ICE will no longer intimidate vital witnesses from testifying in court. ICE will no longer compound the trauma of victims who are choosing to relive the worst day in their lives so that no one else has to share that experience. ICE will no longer prevent my office from seeking justice and accountability.”

Ryan agreed, saying that the decision was a great step for the state to take.

“In Massachusetts we are, as we have always been, leaders in protecting the most vulnerable members of our community,” Ryan said. “This decision reaffirms that every person in our Commonwealth should be able to seek justice in our courts without fear or hesitation. The granting of this injunction is a critical step in the right direction for our Commonwealth and it should be a model for our nation.”

The injunction does not prevent ICE from conducting criminal arrests or civilly arresting those brought to court while in state or federal custody. It applies only to civil arrests of undocumented immigrants, which generally means those who have overstayed their visa or entered the country illegally.

In 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a decision stating that court officers will not detain or civilly arrest anyone in their custody at the request of ICE if that person would have been released otherwise.

ICE has not yet issued any comment on the decision, aside from the fact that it is reviewing the ruling.

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, said in a statement that the ruling is a victory for the immigrant community.

“Today’s order represents a huge victory for the rule of law, against the overreaching anti-immigrant policies of the Trump Administration,” he said. “ As LCR and our allies have consistently demonstrated, ICE’s immigration enforcement in and around courthouses undermines our system of justice, by chilling victims and witnesses from seeking redress in our courts.”

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