A federal judge in Massachusetts on Thursday blocked Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from making arrests in and around courthouses in the state.
The district attorneys for Middlesex and Suffolk counties sued ICE earlier this year, alleging that a directive authorizing the civil arrests of undocumented immigrants at courthouses violates long-standing common-law privilege.
And they argued that the arrests “exceed the powers granted to the federal government” and violate residents’ constitutional right to access the courts.
The district attorneys specifically claimed that the civil arrests in state courthouses were impeding their ability to prosecute cases. And the Chelsea Collaborative, a local group that supported the lawsuit, said they were unable to assist immigrants seeking protective court actions because they avoided the courthouses due to the ICE policy.
ICE pushed back against the claims, pointing to agency documents that state that courthouses are not considered to be a “sensitive location.” And officials said they generally don’t arrest people ahead of hearings, nor do they target witnesses or victims involved in court proceedings.
The agency also argued that the state prosecutors were harmed due to just the threat of an arrest increasing their workload or amount of time it takes to secure a prosecution. And ICE pointed to the immigrants who fail to appear for court proceedings for harming state prosecutors, not the agency’s directive itself.
However, District Judge Indira Talwani, an Obama appointee, wrote in a preliminary injunction that she agrees “that being unable to reliably secure the attendance of defendants, victims, and witnesses hinders the ability of the DAs [district attorneys] to prosecute crimes and Chelsea Collaborative’s members to secure their rights under state law and amounts to a particularized injury sufficient to constitute injury-in-fact.”
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