Ryan: Feds wouldn’t budge on court house visits

Says she reached out to US immigration officials 12 times

MIDDLESEX DISTRICT ATTORNEY MARIAN RYAN said on Monday that she decided to sue US Customs and Immigration Enforcement only after the federal agency refused to address more than a dozen separate instances where agents interfered with business at local courts. 

“I’d say more than a dozen times,” Ryan said when asked how many times over the last year and a half her office had pressed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about the issue.  

She said federal immigration enforcement officials would show up unannounced at court houses dressed in plain clothes and interfere with proceedings at family, housing, and criminal courts. “ICE has made clear, as it’s laid out in the complaint, that they’re going to follow their directive,” Ryan said. 

The ICE directive, formulated in January 2018, holds that court housearrests are often necessitated by the unwillingness of jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the transfer of noncitizens to federal prisons and jails. 

If Ryan’s lawsuit is successful, she said, the outcome would probably be similar to what would happen in state court. “If a state court judge issued an injunction and told you to not do something, you violate that, you could be brought in and held in contempt for violating that order. I would assume the same practice would happen,” she said. 

She said it would be unlikely that ICE agents would be arrested if they violated the order. “Typically, if someone is behaving according to what they’re told to do, it’s some layers up from that,” Ryan said. 

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins became aware of Ryan’s plans to go to court when she reached out to Attorney General Maura Healey’s office a few months ago and was told that Ryan was working on a lawsuit.  

Rollins said she has no problem with ICE apprehending individuals once they have been convicted and served their time. 

“What is problematic,” she said, “is that when they remove them, number one, prior to them being held accountable, and number two, which is what this lawsuit about, when it happens in public places and causes the chilling effect of people not wanting to show up to court.”  

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.

Ryan said the chief reason she got involved was because she believed the ICE directive denies court access to the public, in this case members of the public who are non-citizens.  

“It’s what all of us believe,” she said. “We believe the court is how you resolve problems. If we deny people the right to go to court, what have we become?”