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Amid Drop In Total Arrests, ICE Wants To Keep Arresting People At Courthouses

U.S. immigration authorities want a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit that seeks to permanently block them from making arrests at Massachusetts courthouses.

The suit was filed by Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins. The two allege courthouse immigration arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is scaring victims and defendants away from court and making it harder for prosecutors to hold people accountable.

Back in June, the DAs won a temporary injunction from U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani. She ordered ICE to stop making civil immigration arrests at courthouses in the state while the lawsuit plays out.

At the time, Oren Nimni, an attorney with Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights, told WBUR the injunction was a huge victory.

"ICE has been running rampant across courthouses, stalking immigrants as they go in to get restraining orders against abusive partners or deal with other civil or criminal matters, and it's been taking a huge toll on immigrant communities," he said.

But in court filings Friday, the federal government argued Congress grants ICE the authority to conduct immigration arrests basically wherever the agency sees fit.

"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) has long exercised its arrest authority in and around courthouses given its strong interest in removing aliens who engage in criminal activity, are in gangs, are national security threats, or have already had final judgments issued rendering them removable," the court documents read.

Federal immigration authorities maintain that making arrests in a controlled setting, such as a courthouse, is safer for immigration officials, immigrants and the community at large.

In a statement Monday, DA Rollins argued ICE has deported people for civil immigration violations who later her office sought to extradite back to the U.S. to face criminal charges.

"It is local prosecutors who are holding violent, criminal offenders accountable. My office has had to find and return to Suffolk County violent criminals to stand trial," she said. "These are individuals whom ICE had deported for a civil, immigration infraction prior to their criminal trials. Those deportations by ICE did nothing to keep our community safe, did not provide justice for victims, and were done without notifying us or our victims.

Newly released data from ICE show a drop in civil immigration arrests in New England during fiscal year 2019 when compared to the two previous years. According to the agency, ICE made 2,469 civil arrests in fiscal year 2019 — down from 2,908 civil arrests in fiscal year 2018 and 2,834 in 2017.

Marcos Charles is the acting director of the ICE field office in New England. Charles did not directly tie the effects of Talwani's ruling to the decrease in arrests. Instead, he said a diversion of resources to the U.S. southern border paired with so-called "sanctuary city" contributed to the lower totals.

He added that preventing ICE from conducting courthouse arrests is counterproductive.

"It's only common sense that ICE be able to take custody of criminal aliens in a secure environment such as a jail, instead of sending officers out to attempt the often dangerous task of arresting criminal aliens in residential communities," Charles said.

The disparity in month-to-month total arrests suggests the agency's strategy may have taken a hit when Talwani issued the temporary injunction in June barring ICE arrests at courthouses. ICE's monthly civil arrest rate from October 2018 through May 2019 was 229. That average dropped to 159 arrests per month after the injunction was issued.

This article was originally published on December 16, 2019.

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Shannon Dooling is an immigration reporter at WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station.

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