Massachusetts prosecutors sue to block ICE arrests at courthouses

Massachusetts district attorneys and public defenders are filing a lawsuit Monday to stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement from patrolling state courthouses.

The lawsuit alleges that criminal defendants, witnesses and civil litigants have all been affected by the agency’s policy, thereby impeding court business.

“Entire communities now view the Massachusetts courts as places where they cannot go, for any reason, greatly impeding access to justice and undermining the administration of justice in these communities,” the complaint reads.

The lawsuit describes how ICE’s policy is allegedly undermining the work of prosecutors and defense attorneys who depend on witnesses “to carry out investigations, prosecutions, and criminal defense.” The case, according to the lawsuit, is the first time that district attorneys and public defenders have joined as plaintiffs to challenge what they say is a threat to the state’s justice system.

ICE’s increasing presence at courthouses under the Trump administration has drawn the ire of advocates and lawyers who have warned that it has a chilling effect within communities.

Last week, a Massachusetts state judge and a former court officer were indicted on charges of obstruction of justice and other federal charges after being accused of helping a twice-deported undocumented defendant elude immigration authorities by slipping out a rear courthouse door.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said the indictment was “a radical and politically motivated attack on our state and the independence of our courts” and that the matter could have been handled by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct and the Trial Court.

ICE, in a 2017 report, listed Boston as a jurisdiction that limits cooperation with the agency. ICE does not consider courthouses sensitive locations, the agency states on its website. Places where agents generally avoid making arrests include schools, hospitals, churches and ceremonies, the ICE guidelines state.

The agency declined to comment.

Monday’s lawsuit alleges that the policy is illegal “for at least three reasons.” It argues that Congress “never authorized ICE to conduct civil courthouse arrests”; that even if the directive were authorized by statute, it exceeds the powers granted to the federal government; and that the policy violates the constitutional right of access to the courts.

The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

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