The two Massachusetts district attorneys who are suing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the agency’s policy of arresting people at courthouses on civil immigration matters elaborated at a press conference Monday on why they jointly filed the federal lawsuit.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins are plaintiffs in the complaint, along with the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Chelsea Collaborative, in what has been hailed as a “unprecedented” and “groundbreaking” move.
Ryan said work on the lawsuit began a year ago, but connected their legal action to last week’s federal indictment of a Massachusetts district court judge and a court officer for allegedly helping an undocumented immigrant evade ICE custody at a Newton courthouse.
“[T]hat case itself demonstrates the need for what we seek here today,” she said. “And that is a clear and formal ruling from the court as to what the culture of our courthouses will be. I am proud to stand here today with the other plaintiffs in the defense of the sanctity of our courts and the protection of the public safety.”
Rollins said that fear created by actions by ICE are interfering with prosecutors being able to fulfill their “statutory obligation to victims of crimes.”
“It’s difficult enough to convince a traumatized victim or witness of violence to cooperate in a criminal case,” she said. “They often face intimidation and fear in the wake of such offenses. That fear should never be exacerbated by members of law enforcement. Shamefully that is exactly what ICE is doing.”
Read their full statements below:
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan
We are here because just a few moments ago — joined together as plaintiffs — we filed a lawsuit in the federal court. A lawsuit which we believe to be a first of its kind, collective plaintiffs. This lawsuit seeks a declaration from the court that the written ICE directive, which authorized the arrest of people on civil charges using the courts of the Commonwealth, is unlawful. It also seeks a finding that the policy in place and being enforced by ICE violates both the constitutional rights of individuals to access the courts and the longstanding federal and Massachusetts common law privilege against such arrests.
We seek an injunction directing ICE to cease making those arrests, [individuals] who every single day, when the courts of the Commonwealth open, come to court seeking help. They may be there as the victims of a violent crime, they may be there as a witness, they may be there as someone who has been charged with a crime, they may be there seeking some other form of help, guardianship for a family member, protection from a landlord or an employer, or protection from an abuser in their own home. To the extent that the practices of ICE in apprehending them while they are coming, going, or exercising and conducting their business in the court has chilled their right to do that — that is an assault on our justice system. It is one which cannot continue.
For me this lawsuit is really about two things. As the district attorney of Middlesex County my core mission is the protection of the public safety of the 1.6 million people in the largest county in the state. Our accomplishment of that objective usually lies in the prosecution of criminal cases. In order to do that effectively we must rely on the cooperation of witnesses, victims. We need to have present in court those who have been accused as well as their witnesses. Asking anyone under any circumstances to engage in that process, which at its best day is frightening, confusing, and time-consuming, is difficult. To ask people to engage in that process with all of its complications when they themselves fear that their coming to court will cause them to be whisked away by ICE, or perhaps even more tragically when they fear that their coming to court will lead to actions of ICE that will disrupt and tear apart their families, makes our prosecution of cases more difficult. And in many, many cases impossible. Because what then is the result?
These are real results, and you’ll hear about some of these examples. The result of this fear, that keeps people from exercising their right to come to court, is that victims suffer in silence, people continue to be abused in their homes. Witnesses, who may have seen something happen to any one of us or a member of our families, randomly been in a place where they saw something, are forced to choose between the protection of themselves and their family and their civic duty to come forward. Offenders often choose not to take the risk and do not come to court to have their case resolved.
And this is the public safety piece that is so critical. Because when we cannot hold anyone accountable for their actions, let me be clear, that is not justice. And not one person in this Commonwealth is safer because of that practice. And having spent my career as a trial and appellate attorney in courts across the Commonwealth, I believe firmly in the sanctity of our courts. That is precisely why the plaintiffs today have chosen to use the court to file this lawsuit. To put an end to the practice of ICE. Let’s just remember, and it’s becoming somewhat harder to remember this, one of the primary reasons that the United States of America enjoys the respect which it does on the world stage is precisely because of its respect for the rule of law and for what have been for over 200 years the hallmarks of our court system. That is, a culture of fairness, impartiality, and civility. Over 200 years. That is who we are. And yet, over the last two years, due to these practices, we have seen that culture replaced by something truly frightening. And that is the culture of fear. All actors in the court system have a role to play in resolving and restoring that culture — and clarifying who we are as Americans. It’s that sense of fairness and above all our commitment to the shared values and the shared belief in the traditions of our court that has led us in this unprecedented filing to bring together prosecutors, defense counsel, community members, to file this lawsuit. We have been working on this lawsuit for over a year. Its filing this morning would not have been possible, both for District Attorney Rollins and myself, without our partners here at Goodwin. We owe you a great debt. Goodwin has taken on this case as a pro bono effort. And we are grateful for that.
As I just said we’ve been working on this lawsuit for over a year, so it’s important to note that it stands separate and apart from other cases that occured in the federal court last week. However, that case itself demonstrates the need for what we seek here today and that is a clear and formal ruling from the court as to what the culture of our courthouses will be. I am proud to stand here today with the other plaintiffs in the defense of the sanctity of our courts and the protection of the public safety.
Suffolk District Attorney Rachel Rollins
This suit marks a historic moment. I do not take this action lightly. But standing by silently as immigration officials under the explicit direction of the president of the United States strip our justice system of its ability to function simply isn’t an option.
As district attorney of Suffolk County, I represent one of Massachusetts’s most diverse and vibrant regions. Since taking office, I’ve watched serious criminal cases against individuals accused of violent heinous crimes grind to a halt because of a civil arrest by ICE. As prosecutors, we cannot fulfill our statutory obligation to victims of crimes when ICE unilaterally engages in civil arrests. Our legislature here in Massachusetts under Mass. General Laws Chapter 258B created a victim’s bill of rights, which could be violated every time ICE conducts a civil arrest and removes someone from a courthouse without our knowledge
Who‘s responsible for telling that victim that their case will not be moving forward, that we don’t know where their rapist is, that they will never have the chance to confront the individual accused of hurting them or their loved one? ICE isn’t making those phone calls. ICE isn’t sitting with those victims. We are as district attorneys. It’s difficult enough to convince a traumatized victim or witness of violence to cooperate in a criminal case. They often face intimidation and fear in the wake of such offenses. That fear should never be exacerbated by members of law enforcement. Shamefully that is exactly what ICE is doing. When federal immigration authorities place themselves inside the very courthouses that vulnerable individuals rely on for hope and justice, it creates a chilling effect. And an even greater sense of fear. Not only are people afraid of violent offenders, but they are also terrified of the authorities. These actions do nothing to further public safety or the rule of law. In fact, as we’ve laid out in the suit filed today, ICE’s directives violate multiple well established legal principles.
I have made clear time and time again that I take no issue with immigration officials removing a noncitizen convicted of a serious felony, after that individual has been held accountable and served their time. I am not asking, nor am I intending, to interfere with the federal government when they engage and exercise their lawful authority. I simply ask that they pay us the same respect and not interfere with ours.