Rollins, ICE make nice

Suffolk County DA: Lawsuit on courthouse arrests continuing

SUFFOLK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY Rachael Rollins said on Tuesday that her office has had better cooperation with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement since she and a fellow DA filed a lawsuit against the agency.

Talking to reporters after a court hearing on the case, Rollins said communication with ICE had improved but she still wants to see the federal agency’s policies on detaining undocumented immigrants at county courthouses clarified.

Rollins said that she’s had “really positive conversations” with ICE Acting Field Office Director Todd Lyons, specifically about detainees being charged with felonies by her office. She and Lyons had previously been at odds after she published a March 2019 policy memo outlining practices her office would take in response to concerns that ICE was interfering with civil and criminal business at Suffolk County courts. In response, Lyons had called the approach “very misguided.”

While Rollins said “flare ups” with ICE have subsided, she insisted ICE cannot insert itself into the “state criminal process” – meaning detaining and deporting defendants facing criminal charges in Massachusetts. She said undocumented immigrants facing criminal charges in Massachusetts should be tried, prosecuted, and serve their sentence before being deported by ICE.

“If they’re found not guilty, ICE can do whatever they want,” Rollins said. “If they are found guilty, let us make them serve their time. [ICE] can take them in the end.”

Rollins cited the example of an Uber driver charged with two counts of rape following an alleged sexual assault in Boston in March. ICE has said the man — a foreign national from Uganda — was not subject to removal from the US. But in a hypothetical, Rollins said, “If he were removed from this country, he would be back in the country a few weeks later somewhere else, sexually assaulting someone else.”

Rollins and Middlesex DA Marian Ryan last month filed suit to halt the interference of ICE agents in court proceedings. They were joined in the case by the public defender group Committee for Public Counsel Services and Chelsea Collaborative.

US District Court Judge Indira Talwani on Tuesday heard lawyers for both sides in the case deliberate a temporary injunction that would disallow ICE agents from performing civil arrests at county courthouses.

Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins: We’ve had “really positive conversations” with ICE.

The DAs have argued that the threat of civil arrest by ICE agents is deterring undocumented immigrants from coming to court as victims, witnesses, and plaintiffs, but they have provided no concrete examples. It’s unclear whether the mere threat of deportation is enough to trigger an injunction.

Rollins said her office may be able to come up with some concrete examples. “We have a lot of data about cases that are abandoned, dismissed, or not guilty because witnesses don’t show up,” she said. “We gotta’ see if we can piece together whether it’s because of their immigration status or not.”

Talwani tried to sort through the conflicting claims. Government attorney Erez Reuveni argued that a 2005 immigration law passed by Congress allows courthouse arrests, while plaintiff attorney David Zimmer focused claimed a 2017 memo issued by ICE said agents would make enforcement determinations at courthouses on a “case-by-case” basis. Talwani asked for further documentation on ICE’s policies, and told the court “I’m going to dig in and see where I end up.”

Reuveni at one point suggested that the lawsuit could have been avoided if the district attorney’s offices had conferred with ICE on a case-by-case basis. Ryan, however, said in early May that her office had interacted with ICE on the phone over a dozen times on specific cases.

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.

Separately, US Attorney Andrew Lelling told Boston Herald Radio host Adriana Cohen on Tuesday that the reason why ICE arrests people in courthouses is because they are no longer able to arrest them in jails, whose administrators “won’t cooperate with ICE.”

Lelling said ICE only seeks to arrest criminal defendants listed on court dockets. “They don’t know that there’s a victim there, or a witness there. They have no way of knowing that. All they know is that criminal defendant John Doe is on that day, and he’s wanted because he is an illegal re-entrant into the US,” he said.