FEDERAL JUDGE BLOCKS ICE FROM MAKING COURTHOUSE ARRESTS OF UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS IN MASSACHUSETTS

Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.

Given the anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration, it would not be wrong to characterize Federal judges as the “BFF” of immigrants in the United States.  On numerous immigration issues, the decisions of Federal judges have been critical to safeguard the rights of immigrants and restrict the actions of the Trump administration.  Another example of a Federal judge protecting the rights of immigrants occurred on June 20, with the decision of U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani to block U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) from making courthouse arrests of undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts.

Judge Talwani’s decision arose from litigation filed by 2 Massachusetts county district attorneys (and public defenders and community groups) against ICE Directive No. 11072.1, “Civil Immigration Actions Inside Courthouses”, dated January 10, 2018 (the “Courthouse Civil Arrest Directive”), which authorized ICE to conduct civil immigration arrests inside of state courthouses (including in Massachusetts).  The plaintiffs argued that courthouse arrests of immigrants deter victims, witnesses, and defendants from cooperating with law enforcement on local criminal cases. The plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction against the Courthouse Civil Arrest Directive. 

Judge Talwani first recognized that “[t]he United States imported [from English law] that common law privilege against civil arrest at courthouses into its judicial system”, and then stated, “Plaintiffs have a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that Courthouse Civil Arrest Directive exceeds the authority granted to ICE by the Congress in the civil arrest provisions of the [Immigration and Naturalization Act] and should be invalidated pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act. . . . Plaintiffs argue that they are suffering ongoing and irreparable harm. . . . Plaintiffs claim the Courthouse Civil Arrest Directive interferes with the District Attorney’s ability to prosecute specific cases because victims and witnesses are scared to participate in the proceedings . . . and because ICE civilly arrests many non-targeted individuals at courthouses. . . . For example, survivors of domestic violence fear utilizing the court system in responding to abuse because of a fear of immigration authorities at courthouses. . . . CPCS [the Committee for Public Counsel Services, one of the other plaintiffs] argues the Courthouse Civil Arrest Directive shifts their staff focus to assist criminal defense attorneys in the process of navigating the potential immigration consequences of their client’s circumstances, often including helping counsel locate their client in ICE civil detention. . . . Further, when defendants with pending charges are arrested in the courthouse before they can appear before a judge, a default is entered against them. . . . Plaintiffs have made an unrebutted showing that each day that the threat of ICE civil arrests looms over Massachusetts courthouses impairs the DAs and CPCS ability to successfully perform their functions within the judicial system, and . . . ability to enforce legal rights, and that absent an injunction, some state criminal and civil cases may well go unprosecuted for lack of victim or witness participation.  CPCS will continue to incur costs as defendants are civilly arrested when attempting to respond to criminal complaints. 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. None of these harms can be remedied after the conclusion of this litigation. Therefore, the court finds that the Plaintiffs have alleged irreparable harm sufficient to warrant and injunction”.

Judge Talwani concluded, “The court will issue a preliminary injunction enjoining Defendants from implementing [the Courthouse Civil Arrest Directive] in Massachusetts and from civilly arresting parties, witnesses, and others attending Massachusetts courthouses on official business while they are going to, attending, or leaving the courthouse”.

Judge Talwani’s ruling is believed to be the first such preliminary injunction granted with respect to the Courthouse Civil Arrest Directive in the United States.  It may serve as a possible precedent for other litigation against the Courthouse Civil Arrest Directive in Federal courts around the country.

The decision by Judge Talwani demonstrates how litigation against anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration can protect immigrant rights.  To prevail in such litigation, immigrants need to be represented by skilled immigration lawyers, such as the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, which for years has successfully safeguarded the rights of immigrants in court cases.  If you are being challenged in your immigrant rights by the Trump administration, please contact the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, at taher@kameli.com or 312-233-1000, for help.