Judge blocks most ICE courthouse arrests

Issues injunction in case brought by 2 Mass. district attorneys

US DISTRICT COURT JUDGE INDIRA TALWANI approved a temporary injunction on Thursday blocking US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from making civil arrests of undocumented individuals in and around district courthouses in Massachusetts. 

Siding with the district attorneys of Middlesex and Suffolk counties, Talwani granted an injunction barring ICE from implementing a directive put in place in January 2018. In her decision, she said ICE agents will be enjoined from “civilly arresting parties, witnesses, and others attending Massachusetts courthouses on official business while they are going to, attending, or leaving the courthouse.” 

The 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) would not be subject to arrest.

The injunction represents a major setback for the Trump administration, which has used courthouse arrests as a key element of its crackdown on undocumented immigrants.  

The two district attorneys, Marian Ryan in Middlesex and Rachael Rollins in Suffolk, along with the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the advocacy group Chelsea Collaborative, had argued that ICE was flouting common-law privilege against civil courthouse arrests. They accused ICE of commandeering the state courts for federal immigration purposes.  

Rollins said she is “thrilled” with the ruling, and will address the media in the coming days on how the decision will impact local communities.

The complaint against ICE said noncitizen witnesses often do not appear in court for fear of arrest or deportation, and criminal defendants often refuse to appear in court, choosing to default rather then risk detention and removal by ICE.  

ICE agents arrested two immigrants in May who were in the country illegally and charged with crimes at the Chelsea and East Boston District Courts. 

In the January 2018 directive, then-ICE acting director Thomas Homan wrotethat courthousearrests are often necessitated by the unwillingness of jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the transfer of custody of “aliens” from their prisons and jails.The directive is what Talwani is temporarily pausing. 

ICE spokesman John Mohan said the agency is reviewing the judge’s ruling and had no “direct comment” on whether an appeal would be made. 

Oren Nimni, who is representing Chelsea Collaborative, said his client was encouraged by the judge’s ruling. “The ruling is an important step in protecting immigrant communities from unlawful arrests and is vitally important for curtailing ICE’s rogue operations. Today we celebrate a victory for our clients and a victory for access to justice for all,” he said.  

The order will block ICE from going not only into court houses, but also from detaining immigrants on the steps or parking lots of courthouses. This is the first time this has happened in the United States, according to attorneys for those challenging ICE

“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,” Ryan said. 

Marion Davis, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said the injunction was good news. “We know the presence of ICE in our courthouse has been very disruptive and has denied access to justice for many people,” she said. They can now go to court without fear. If a boss has stolen wages, they can to court. They can also get restraining orders without fear if they suffered domestic abuse,” she said.  

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.