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Civil-Rights Groups Seek to Block ICE Arrests at Courthouses

ICE officials have carried out enforcement actions in at least 24 Massachusetts courthouses. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
ICE officials have carried out enforcement actions in at least 24 Massachusetts courthouses. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
March 16, 2018

BOSTON – Civil-rights groups are asking the Commonwealth's highest court to stop federal immigration officials from arresting people at courthouses.

Public records show that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have acted in at least two dozen state courthouses around Massachusetts. Oren Nimni, an attorney with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, says that's making people who are crime witnesses or victims afraid to go to court.

For example, he says, one petitioner is a victim of domestic violence by an abusive ex-husband.

"Because of her fear of ICE enforcement,” says Nimni, “she's left with no recourse against her abuser. She can't even go to the court to get a restraining order without fearing being picked up by immigration officials, who now stalk the halls of our courthouses."

In January, acting ICE Director Thomas Homan signed an order directing agents to target what he called "criminal aliens" in courthouses anywhere in the United States.

But according to Nimni, sanctuary states – that have chosen not to cooperate with federal officials in detaining undocumented immigrants – are being singled out for increased ICE enforcement.

"We know from official statements by the administration and by ICE that Massachusetts, and other jurisdictions that have more immigrant-friendly policies, are being targeted explicitly because of those policies," he says.

Last week, the federal Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the State of California over its state laws that help protect immigrants facing deportation.

Nimni says the writ of protection they are seeking from the Massachusetts high court would shield all immigrants who have business with the courts, as well as the courthouses themselves.

"This is the first case of its kind,” says Nimni, “and we're hoping that the court here will set an example that other states can follow."

The petitioners are asking that their request be forwarded to the full Supreme Judicial Court for consideration.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - MA