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In ICE lawsuit, federal authorities respond to request that would stop courthouse arrests

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins and Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan filed a federal lawsuit last month to address US immigration enforcement policies.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

The federal government asked a judge Monday to reject a request that seeks to stop immigration authorities from arresting people at courthouses throughout the country, in a case spearheaded by two leading Massachusetts prosecutors.

Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins and Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan, along with public defenders and immigration advocates, sued the federal government late last month, seeking to halt immigration agents from making civil arrests at state-level courthouses through a preliminary injunction, according to court documents.

In a Monday filing opposing that motion, attorneys for federal authorities said that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has “long exercised its arrest authority in and around courthouses given its strong interest in removing aliens engaging in criminal activity.”


Until recently, according to the filing, state courts in Massachusetts “generally cooperated with federal immigration enforcement efforts, including ICE’s courthouse enforcement policy.”

However, a 2017 decision of the Supreme Judicial Court established that state judicial and law enforcement officers lack the authority to transfer detainees to the federal government in civil immigration matters, according to Monday’s filing.

“Accordingly, in Massachusetts, many dangerous aliens involved in a criminal activity who were previously transferred to ICE custody in secure locations like jails or prisons are now released to the streets often immediately following proceedings in state courthouses,” read the filing.

According to ICE, courthouse arrests helped ensured that people who were convicted of crimes, gang members, and national security or safety risks, were safely apprehended and removed from the country.

Under an ICE directive, courthouse arrests “may be conducted with the approval of a high-level officer.”

The plaintiffs, according to the federal authorities, “assert an overbroad privilege that finds no support in Supreme Court precedent: a privilege against all civil arrests regardless of jurisdiction or arresting authority.”

In Monday’s filing, the federal government stated that “Plaintiffs do not argue — nor can they — that aliens are not subject to federal law enforcement jurisdiction anywhere within the United States’ borders.”


Neither can the plaintiffs argue that “aliens have a right to evade immigration enforcement,” according to Monday’s filing.

Rollins and Ryan, the two district attorneys, filed the lawsuit less than a week after a state court judge and a court officer were indicted for allegedly helping an undocumented immigrant facing drug and fugitive charges evade an ICE officer in Newton District Court.

They 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 a large number of Mexican and Central American immigrants live.

Their complaint stated that under President Trump, ICE has issued a directive to conduct civil arrests at courthouses in violation of the 10th Amendment, which limits federal power over states, and flouts a centuries-long position that a person going to court should not have to fear arrest on a civil matter.

Defendants in the case include ICE, a pair of ICE officials, the US Department of Homeland Security, and the acting homeland security secretary.

Maria Cramer and John R. Ellement of Globe staff contributed to this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.