Advocates Ask Mass. High Court To Block Immigration Arrests At State Courthouses

Mar 15, 2018

Advocates in Massachusetts say U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are targeting courthouses in the state and arresting undocumented immigrants who are showing up for scheduled court dates.

On Thursday, a group of immigration advocates filed a petition in Supreme Judicial Court seeking an injunction against such arrests, saying the fear of deportation is preventing some immigrants who are in the country without documentation from showing up for court business.

This is the first case of its kind in the nation, according to the advocates, who hope it may serve as a blueprint for others seeking to stop arrests of undocumented immigrants at courthouses in other states.

The group filing the suit is comprised of the Committee for Public Counsel Services Immigration Impact Unit, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and Greater Boston Legal Services.

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee, says there's been an uptick in immigration enforcement in and around courthouses since President Trump took office.

"We are asking the Supreme Judicial Court to enter an order, an injunction, to prevent immigration officials from rounding up immigrants as they are en route to judicial proceedings or coming from judicial proceedings and to block immigration officials from making arrests in the courthouses themselves," he said.

In a press release, the Lawyers' Committee and others said the petition was filed on behalf of a few specific cases with immigrants who fear going to court because of increased ICE activity in and around courthouses — including an abused woman who needs to renew a restraining order against an abusive ex-husband and a woman seeking guardianship for her disabled adult daughter.

Citing the results of a public records request made by his organization, Espinoza-Madrigal says there have been more than 80 arrests made in 24 courthouses across the state since Trump's inauguration. Advocates and immigration attorneys say ICE has largely refrained from conducting arrests inside courthouses in the past.

But according to ICE policies listed online, courthouses are not considered "sensitive locations" like schools, places of worship or hospitals, where federal immigration officials are generally instructed to avoid carrying out enforcement actions. The latest ICE policy surrounding arrests at courthouses states:

Courthouse arrests are often necessitated by the unwillingness of jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the transfer of custody of aliens from their prisons and jails. Further, many of the aliens ICE is targeting have taken affirmative measures to avoid detection by ICE officers. Individuals entering courthouses are typically screened by law enforcement personnel to search for weapons and other contraband. Accordingly, civil immigration enforcement actions taken inside courthouses can reduce safety risks to the public, targeted alien(s), and ICE officers and agents.

John Mohan, a spokesman for ICE, said in an email that the agency does not comment on pending litigation and referred to the established policies related to courthouse arrests.

This report was originally published by WBUR.