ICE asks judge to let agency back into courthouses

Motion to dismiss comes as detainment numbers down

FEDERAL IMMIGRATION OFFICIALS are seeking to dismiss a lawsuit that would bar agents from making arrests in local Massachusetts courthouses.   

In April, Suffolk and Middlesex district attorneys Rachael Rollins and Marian Ryan filed the first federal lawsuit of its kind against US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, seeking to bar agents from making civil arrests in or around courthouses, in conjunction with immigrant advocacy group Chelsea Collaborative and Committee for Public Counsel Services.  

CommonWealth broke the story about the lawsuit, and a temporary injunction was issued by US District Court Judge Indira Talwani in June, when she ordered the agency to stop its practice of making civil immigration arrests at courthouses for the duration of the lawsuit.  

On Friday, ICE filed a motion asking Talwani to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that ICE has longstanding authority granted by Congress to arrest immigrants in and around courthouses.  

“US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has long exercised its arrest authority in and around courthouses given its strong interest in removing aliens who engage in criminal activity, are in gangs, are national security threats, or have already had final judgments issued rendering them removable,” the court filing reads 

The defendants also claimed that Tenth Amendment arguments that reserve states’ rights over areas not spelled out in the Constitution is void because Rollins, Ryanand the other plaintiffs haven’t pointed to a specific case in which an immigrant was blocked from filing a lawsuit because they were detained at a courthouse before making the filing.   

“The access-to-the-courts claim fails because Plaintiffs make only general allegations and have not shown that the federal government has wrongfully blocked the filing of a specific lawsuit,” write the attorneys for ICE 

Ryan and Rollins claim ICE’s actions area violation of the Tenth Amendment.   

The lawsuit said ICE has decided to “flout” common-law privilege against civil courthouse arrests and “commandeer” the state courts for federal immigration purposes. The complaint said  noncitizen witnesses often do not appear for fear of arrest or deportation, and criminal defendants refuse to appear in court, choosing to default rather than risk detention and removal by ICE.  

Rollins said Talwani’s decision to issue the preliminary injunction earlier this year “speaks to the strength of our case.”

“It is local prosecutors who are holding violent, criminal offenders accountable. My office has had to find and return to Suffolk County violent criminals to stand trial. These are individuals whom ICE had deported for a civil, immigration infraction prior to their criminal trials,” Rollins told CommonWealth. “Those deportations by ICE did nothing to keep our community safe, did not provide justice for victims, and were done without notifying us or our victims. We, as local prosecutors, have real victims that have been injured and deserve their day in court. I will always fight for victims, witnesses, and survivors and for immigrants, as they are often one and the same.”

Lawyers for Civil Rights, a nonprofit that represents immigrants who are a part of Chelsea Collaborative and who claim to have been detained by ICE during courthouse proceedings, said the motion raises no new arguments 

The government largely repeats the arguments that they unsuccessfully made in opposition to Plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction. In light of the positive impact the injunction has made,” said Oren Nimni, an attorney for the group. “It continues to be disappointing that the federal government is dead-set on disrupting state court proceedings, chilling victims and witnesses from reporting, and making the Commonwealth less safe overall.” 

According to several sources, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has respected the temporary injunction. But the agency is not pleased with how things have played out.  

Last week, the Boston field office for ICE released statistics showing the lowest number of immigration-related arrests in two years.  

Marcos Charles, acting field director of the agency’s Enforcement and Removal Operations arm, said the injunction played a role in the decline 

“The secure environment of a jail or a courthouse where we can easily take that person into custody has been taken away in that jurisdiction,” he told MassLive. “Not only is it more of a danger to the officers, now you’re putting officers into residential communities looking for the targeted aliens.” 

The Boston field office, which oversees six states, made 2,469 administrative arrests in fiscal 2019, a 15 percent drop from the previous year. According to federal data administrative, or civil, arrests dropped from 252 in May to 126 in June after the temporary injunction hit 

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

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.

The next scheduling conference will be focused on discovery, and is set for January 22.