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DAs Rollins and Ryan drop lawsuit that sought to block ICE from courthouse arrests

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins and Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan answered questions about their lawsuit at a 2019 news conference.
Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins and Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan answered questions about their lawsuit at a 2019 news conference.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins and Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan on Friday dropped a lawsuit against the federal government that sought to block immigration agents from making civil arrests at state courthouses, saying a Biden administration policy change has made the suit unnecessary.

The prosecutors said in a court filing dismissing the case that interim guidance issued by federal officials last month makes the lawsuit moot.

The Department of Homeland Security announced in late April that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents will no longer make routine arrests at courthouses but will do so in cases that involve national security matters or a threat to public safety, the Washington Post reported.

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Under a Trump administration policy introduced in January 2018, civil immigration enforcement actions inside courthouses were ratcheted up, prompting an outcry from immigration advocates and some in the legal system who said such arrests made immigrants frightened to engage with the courts or police.

Rollins and Ryan initiated the case with the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state agency that provides defense lawyers for low-income defendants, and the Chelsea Collaborative, a human services provider in Chelsea, where many Mexican and Central American immigrants live.

In a joint statement Friday, the prosecutors and the two organizations said they hope the “new policy will finally reverse the culture of fear that had been infecting our immigrant communities and their access to our courthouses.”

“The Biden administration’s new policy finally recognizes that executing civil immigration enforcement actions in or near a courthouse may chill individuals’ access to courthouses and, as a result, impair the fair administration of, as well as access to justice,” they said. “We will monitor the implementation of this policy to ensure that ICE does not resume its interference with access to the Massachusetts courts.”

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Wendy S. Wayne, director of the Immigration Impact Unit at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, in a separate statement praised the new ICE policy and criticized the Trump administration’s “unacceptable, fear-inducing courthouse arrest policy that encouraged ICE officers to stalk the courthouses of Massachusetts.”

“Our courthouses should be open and available to all residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of immigration status,” Wayne said.

Representatives for ICE did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Friday afternoon.

Rollins and Ryan filed their lawsuit more than two years ago, less than a week after Newton District Court Judge Shelley M. Richmond Joseph and a court officer were indicted for allegedly helping an undocumented immigrant facing drug and fugitive charges evade an ICE officer. Ryan said then that the suit had been in the works for more than a year and was not connected to the Newton case.

About two months later, US District Judge Indira Talwani granted a preliminary injunction to stop ICE “from civilly arresting parties, witnesses, and others attending Massachusetts courthouses on official business while they are going to, attending, or leaving the courthouses.”

In September, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston overturned Talwani’s order, ruling that she had abused her discretion. The appeals court held that ICE has wide authority to conduct civil arrests and found that state law is vague on the matter.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.