District Court Enjoins ICE From Engaging in Civil Enforcement in Massachusetts Courthouses
Dallas, TX (Law Firm Newswire) August 12, 2019 – A federal judge in Boston issued a preliminary injunction that temporarily blocks U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from making civil immigration arrests of undocumented individuals who enter Massachusetts courthouses.
U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani delivered the ruling on June 20, 2019, in a lawsuit challenging an ICE directive that authorizes civil immigration arrests in state courthouses. According to the court order, the preliminary injunction stops ICE and the Department of Homeland Security from arresting immigrants who are visiting or leaving Massachusetts courthouses on “official business” as witnesses or defendants. The ruling does not prevent immigration officials from making criminal or civil arrests of undocumented individuals brought to courts while in state or federal custody.
“Courthouses are sensitive locations where, as a society, we want victims of a crime, witnesses to a crime and persons in court for family or other civil matters to feel safe,” said Stewart Rabinowitz of the Dallas and Frisco law firm of Rabinowitz & Rabinowitz, P.C. “Having ICE civilly arrest foreign nationals who have come to court for a legitimate purpose discourages some witnesses to a crime from coming to court at all. And that makes us all less safe.”
The lawsuit was filed by Rachael Rollins and Marian Ryan, who are the district attorneys of Suffolk County and Middlesex County respectively. Immigrant advocacy group Chelsea Collaborative and the Committee for Public Counsel Services, a Massachusetts public defender agency, were also named plaintiffs in the case.
The lawsuit argued that ICE’s policy has a chilling effect on prosecution. The fear of being arrested in court can deter undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes or coming forward as witnesses to assist local law enforcement with prosecuting criminals.
In supporting the plaintiffs’ request for the injunction, Talwani cited a common law privilege in the justice system that protects everyone appearing in civil court from arrests. According to the ruling, any ICE directive that allows civil immigration arrests goes beyond the provisions of the Immigration and Naturalization Act and must, therefore, be set aside by the court.
Talwani delivered the ruling at the same time as a separate ICE-related case proceeds in Boston federal court. In April 2019, a state judge and a court officer were indicted on obstruction of justice charges for allegedly enabling an undocumented immigrant to evade immigration officers by leaving the courthouse through the back door. Both defendants pleaded not guilty.