A federal judge today sided with two Massachusetts district attorneys and the state's public defenders and barred ICE from detaining people with business in Massachusetts courts while a lawsuit over the issue proceeds.
US District Court Judge Indira Talwani's preliminary injunction does not apply to people in federal or state custody or to people wanted on criminal charges, but to people who are facing only civil infractions.
Talwani wrote that Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan, the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Chelsea Collaborative "demonstrated a likelihood of success" in their suit to permanently enjoin ICE from monitoring courthouses for people they want to pick up, at least enough so to warrant barring the federal agency from continuing to do so while the lawsuit continues.
In a motion for a preliminary injunction, the DAs and public defenders wrote it was vital to protect people who are witnesses in cases, are plaintiffs or defendants in lawsuits or who have other business in court - such as seeking restraining orders against domestic abusers or fighting with their landlords.
For more than two centuries, courts, including the Supreme Court and this Court, have strictly enforced a "well settled" and "absolute" common-law privilege against civil arrest of those attending court on official business, recognizing that the judicial system cannot function if victims, parties, and witnesses are deterred from appearing in court by the threat that their appearance could be used as a trap. E.g., Stewart v. Ramsay, 242 U.S. 128, 129-130 (1916); Larned v. Griffin, 12 F. 590, 594 (D. Mass. 1882). In complete disregard for that well recognized limitation on the government's civil-arrest power, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") has ordered its agents to arrest parties and witnesses appearing in court — arrests based on alleged civil, not criminal, immigration infractions. As a result, tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents will not set foot in Massachusetts courts. Victims of domestic violence or of abusive practices by landlords and employers tolerate that abuse rather than risk ICE arrest. Criminal defendants accept default rather than risk appearing in court. And when prospective plaintiffs, victims, witnesses, and defendants do not appear in court, civil and criminal prosecution and defense often become impossible. In short, ICE's new and unprecedented policy has undermined access to justice in the precise way that common-law courts have predicted and protected against for centuries.