ICE cannot make civil arrests at Massachusetts courthouses, a federal judge ruled Thursday, dealing a major victory to activists who’d said immigrants were scared to show up for fear of being captured.
Judge Indira Talwani, an Obama appointee to the court, said that courts rely on witnesses and victims to show up, and if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is scaring them, it presents a problem for those operations.
She acknowledged it may be safer for ICE to arrest them at the courthouses rather than in the community, but said that wasn’t enough to justify giving them access.
Her ruling goes beyond just participants in court cases, and bans arrests of anyone on “official business” when they are “going to, attending or leaving the courthouse.”
The decision creates an effective sanctuary for illegal immigrants, and activists called it “a huge victory.”
Judge Talwani said Massachusetts law prohibits court officials from helping ICE, and said there’s a general common-law antipathy toward courthouse arrests.
She said since federal law doesn’t specifically authorize courthouse arrests on civil warrants or detainers, the government cannot abrogate those existing strictures.
“Even with the comprehensive immigration law system devised by Congress, there are some limits to how and where the government can arrest those it seeks to remove,” she ruled.
She acknowledged that Congress had recognized courthouse arrests, including in a 2006 debate, but said that wasn’t enough evidence that lawmakers actually approved of the practice.
The judge said ICE can still make arrests based on criminal warrants, such as when the agency is pursuing cases in its jurisdiction over child pornography or counterfeiting.
But the ruling blocks the administrative arrests that are the backbone of ICE’s deportation efforts in the country’s interior.
ICE already prohibits such arrests at schools, hospitals, churches and rallies.
But it has resisted calls to rule out courthouses, calling them important locations. ICE officials say people have to go through security to get into the courthouse, so ICE officers are able to make arrests without having to worry about the target having a weapon.
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