1st Circuit lifts ban on immigration arrests at state courthouses in Massachusetts

A federal appeals court on Tuesday vacated a federal judge’s preliminary injunction that blocked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from making civil arrests of people in the country illegally at state courthouses in Massachusetts.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Boston ruled unanimously Sept. 1, report Law360, Reuters, the Boston Herald and MassLive.com.

U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani of the District of Massachusetts had barred the arrests in June 2019, citing a common law privilege against civil courthouse arrests that was incorporated into the judicial system.

But the appeals court said it was unpersuaded that a common law privilege against courthouse arrests clearly applied to civil immigration arrests. As a result, the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed in their argument that the Immigration and Nationality Act implicitly incorporated the arrest ban, the court said in a panel opinion by Judge Bruce Selya, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan.

The appeals court noted a backup argument by the plaintiffs: that ICE had no statutory authority to make civil immigration arrests that violate state law.

The argument fails at this point, however, because more fact-finding is needed to determine the scope of Massachusetts’ policy on civil courthouse arrests, the court said.

“The bottom line is that we are confronted with an unsettled record concerning Massachusetts’s policy on courthouse arrests,” Selya wrote.

Plaintiffs challenging the courthouse arrests are the district attorneys of Middlesex County and Suffolk County, the main public defender agency for Massachusetts, and an immigration nonprofit.

Lawyers representing the plaintiffs are from Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston, Goodwin Procter and the Committee for Public Counsel Services.

Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, the executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, said in a statement the ruling is disappointing, but it is only a preliminary decision sending the case back to the federal district court in Boston for more proceedings.

By Debra Cassens Weiss for ABAJOURNAL
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