A federal judge in Massachusetts on Thursday blocked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from arresting anyone inside state courthouses after prosecutors said the policy was crippling cases that relied on immigrants’ testimony and cooperation.
U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani issued a preliminary injunction to ICE and the Department of Homeland Security, two months after the district attorneys for the state’s Suffolk and Middlesex counties, both Democrats, sued the agency over its arrest policy. They argued courthouse arrests of immigrants “exceed the power granted to the federal government” and violate the constitutional right to access the court system.
Talwani’s decision prohibits ICE from “civilly arresting parties, witnesses, and others attending Massachusetts courthouses on official business while they are going to, attending, or leaving the courthouse.”
“Criminal defendants will be unable to vindicate their rights if they are taken into ICE custody prior to appearing in court or if witnesses in their defense are too fearful to visit a courthouse,” Talwani wrote in her ruling, per USA Today.
ICE will still be able to make criminal arrests under the injunction, or arrest anyone already held in custody. The agency has outlined policy on its website that does not consider courthouses “sensitive locations” where immigrants can be protected.
Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins said she was “thrilled” by the injunction, saying it would allow “vital work” to continue, according to the Boston Herald.
Former ICE Director Thomas Homan gave agents the authority to enter courthouses and detain undocumented immigrants in 2018, over the objection of federal judges. At the time, Homan said the agency would only arrest specific targets, including convicted criminals or gang members who posed a threat to public safety.
But the Trump administration has continued its hard-line approach toward undocumented immigrants, and the president recently vowed that ICE would deport “millions of illegal aliens” beginning as soon as next week.
CNN notes that ICE’s ability to arrest people within courthouses has led to an uptick in tensions between local authorities and immigration officials. The district attorneys in Massachusetts wrote in their suit that “victim witness advocates can no longer advise victims that their fear of arrest during the court process is unfounded.”
ICE told USA Today it was reviewing the decision.