Should Federal Immigration Authorities Be Barred from Courthouse Arrests in Massachusetts?

By Jessica M. Vaughan on October 21, 2019

Boston Globe, October 17, 2019.

Federal immigration authorities (ICE) certainly should not be barred from making arrests in courthouses. The campaign to block ICE from courthouses is flagrant political interference with an important constitutional law enforcement activity.

Immigration laws are not trivial statutes that are unworthy of enforcement. They maintain the integrity of our legal immigration system, preserve job opportunities for legal workers, and protect our communities and our country by excluding foreign criminals and other security threats.

ICE would much rather arrest its targets in the jails, where most of them are discovered, but because of strict local sanctuary policies in Boston and a few other places, police are prevented from cooperating. Moreover, a controversial 2017 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling has forced all other state law enforcement agencies to cease honoring ICE warrants to hold deportable aliens in custody.

ICE courthouse arrests are relatively rare, occurring just a couple times a week statewide. The targets are priority cases, typically criminals and/or egregious immigration scofflaws. If ICE cannot arrest these individuals in the safe environment of a courthouse, then ICE has to do it at their dwelling, workplace, or other public place. This is dangerous for ICE officers and the public, and is upsetting to some communities.

Critics of immigration enforcement have contrived reasons to justify barring ICE from courthouses, for example emphasizing that immigration violations are usually civil, not criminal. So what? Civil arrests routinely take place in Massachusetts courthouses; for instance, last year there were 10,000 civil commitment arrests for substance abuse across the state. In truth, ICE is being singled out for inappropriate interference.

As for claims that fear of arrest is causing immigrants to avoid courthouses and preventing access to justice, ICE is not keeping anyone from attending court business, and crime victims are never targets for deportation. Sadly, the fear is being stoked by ICE critics, not by ICE actions.

As long as there are sanctuary policies, whether imposed by local leaders, state justices, or the misguided ballot initiative recently filed by allies of Governor Baker, ICE must keep doing its job in the safest place possible, and that is likely to be a courthouse.