ICE seeks OK to resume courthouse arrests

Agency appeals temporary injunction won by DAs

THE IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS Enforcement agency on Wednesday asked an appellate court to lift a temporary injunction and allow agents to resume making civil arrests of undocumented individuals in and around Massachusetts courthouses.

ICE agents were blocked from Massachusetts courthouses in June 2019, when District Court Judge Indira Talwani issued a temporary injunction sought by Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, the Chelsea Collaborative, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, and Lawyers for Civil Rights, who had argued that the presence of the agents made it impossible for undocumented individuals to participate in many aspects of the legal system.

Francesca Genova, who represents ICE, argued it is safer to arrest undocumented immigrants at courthouses than on the street and that longstanding practice and a 1952 federal law allow it.

David Zimmer, who represents the two district attorneys, argued that longstanding common law in Massachusetts prohibits civil arrests in courthouses. He also argued that Congress can’t authorize federal enforcement agents to violate state court rules without explicitly mentioning it in legislation.

William Kayatta, one of three appellate judges to hear the case, said the could find no cases barring the federal government from making civil arrests wherever it liked.

“We seem to have a gap,” said Kayatta. “I couldn’t find any cases on that, much less a long-established rule.”

Civil arrests, like being detained for solely being in the country illegally, have long been discouraged in the Bay State out of concern that witnesses and victims would be afraid to come to court and conduct business.

“Women have accepted near-fatal domestic abuse rather than going to court and risking civil arrest,” said Zimmer. Domestic violence groups wrote in briefs filed with the court that, prior to Talwani’s injunction, crime victims and witnesses had been deterred from testifying in court because of fear of immigration enforcement.

Talwani’s order does not block ICE agents from arresting undocumented individuals brought to a courthouse while in state or federal custody. But undocumented criminal defendants who come to court on their own volition (for example, those out on bail returning for a court date) are not subject to arrest.