Our Opinion: Judicial push-back against ICE overreach
President Trump has politicized the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, employing it to further an anti-immigration agenda that appeals to his political base. But on Thursday in Massachusetts, A U.S. District Court judge blocked this effort on one front that will ideally establish a precedent for other courts to follow.
Judge Indira Tiwani granted a preliminary injunction that stops ICE from making civil arrests of people entering, attending or leaving Massachusetts courthouses. According to Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston, this is the first federal court ruling in the nation against a strategy that ICE has routinely employed. While ICE had no immediate reaction to the ruling, an appeal would appear to be inevitable.
The court challenge was brought in April by Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan, Suffolk District Attorney Rachel Rollings and a number of public defenders and immigration advocates. Their challenge was made on both legal and practical grounds. The suit argued that ICE has no authority in courthouses regarding civil infractions, which immigration advocates say largely involve visa overstays. The suit successfully argued that ICE's involvement in these cases violates the 10th amendment limiting federal power over states and flouts a centuries-long precedent that a person going to court should not have to fear arrest on a civil matter. The public defenders maintained the involvement by ICE had hindered them in the carrying out of their duties. Immigrant advocates argue that victims of domestic violence and other crimes are reluctant to go to a courthouse if by doing so they open themselves up to arrest on a civil violation. The ruling does not impact ICE's ability to execute criminal warrants.
The decision comes in the wake of a tweet last Monday from the president asserting that ICE would begin removing "millions" of immigrants who are in the United States illegally next week. Following the filing of the suit in April, the president declared in a tweet that veteran prosecutors Ms. Ryan and Mr. Rollings "probably don't mind crime," adding without offering any supportive evidence that their intent is to protect ruthless street gangs.
ICE has an important role to play, particularly in criminal cases, but under Mr. Trump it has been big-footing its way onto state turf, attempting to enlist state agencies in their investigations while simultaneously decrying state efforts to prevent the federal agency from usurping the state's role. A number of police departments across Massachusetts, including some Berkshire County, have adopted policies limiting their involvement in ICE activities in their communities because of the agency's overstepping and out of concern that police will not be able to work in immigrant communities if it is believed that their involvement with ICE has compromised their objectivity.
While Judge Tiwani has logic and the law on her side, there is no guarantee that other courts will arrive at the same conclusion. Ideally, however, this decision will establish a precedent enabling the courts, which have so often been a bulwark against the over-reaching of a president who respects neither the legislative or judicial branches of government, to rein in ICE as well as a president whose distaste for immigrants has further complicated an already difficult issue.
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