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After Judge's Arrest, Massachusetts Prosecutors Sue to Stop Courthouse Arrests of Immigrants

Days after a judge and court officer were arrested on charges they helped a man evade immigration authorities, advocates are filing a lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement's practice of arresting people at local courthouses.

An agent of the Imigration Customs Enforcement agency arrests a man picked up in Brockton, Mass.
(AP Photo/Josh Reynolds)
By Steph Solis

Days after a judge and court officer were arrested on charges they helped a man evade immigration authorities, advocates are filing a lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement's practice of arresting people at local courthouses.

The Middlesex County District Attorney's Office announced a group of prosecutors, public defenders and community groups plan to file a lawsuit on Monday over courthouses arrests, arguing the arrests deter victims and witnesses from cooperating with law enforcement on local criminal cases.

"Prosecutors are forced to abandon cases because many victims and witnesses are deterred from appearing in court. The policy also makes it more difficult to obtain defendants' appearance[s] in court," District Attorney Marian Ryan wrote in a joint statement with Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins.

District Attorney Rachael Rollins told her staff to notify her office if they see immigration agents arresting or questioning people inside courthouses, but what happens after?

Lawyers for Civil Rights Director Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, Committee for Public Counsel Services' Immigration Impact Unit Director Wendy Wayne and Chelsea Collaborative Executive Director Gladys Vega also signed onto the joint statement.

An announcement will be made about the lawsuit at 11 a.m. Monday at Goodwin Procter's Boston office.

Public defenders, local prosecutors and immigrant activists began voicing concerns about ICE agents making arrests at local courthouses after President Donald Trump took office. Thomas D. Homan, then acting director of ICE, issued a directive in January 2018 stating that courthouses are fair game for immigration enforcement, unlike schools, churches and hospitals, which are considered "sensitive locations" under ICE policy.

ICE says making arrests at courthouses ensures that agents can locate and detain people facing immigration violations in a place that screens civilians for weapons. The agency also argues that in some parts of the country, conducting enforcement at courthouses is one of the only options if local law enforcement does not cooperate with ICE agents.

Joseph was under investigation for helping a defendant avoid detention by an immigration enforcement agent in Newton District Court.

Lawyers for Civil Rights has informally tracked ICE arrests at courthouses in Massachusetts in hopes of understanding how prevalent the practice is. Espinoza-Madrigal told MassLive in March that his organization had documented more than 100 arrests in the past year by ICE agents. One of those include the arrest of an undocumented 21-year-old Cape Verdean man in a Boston courthouse in January.

The arrests comes days after Newton District Judge Shelley Joseph and recently retired Trial Court Officer Wesley MacGregor were charged with obstruction over the handling of a case against Jose Medina-Perez, who was facing drug charges in Newton. Medina-Perez had an outstanding warrant for drunk driving in Pennsylvania and was wanted by ICE.

When a plainclothes ICE agent showed up to Medina-Perez's arraignment in Newton District Court, Joseph allegedly ordered the agent out of the courtroom and ordered the courtroom recorder turned off. Prosecutors say she released Medina-Perez without bail and instructed MacGregor to take him to the downstairs lockup while keeping the ICE agent locked out.

MacGregor allegedly let Medina-Perez out the back door.

While all eyes are on the indictments, House Republicans have spent the last two years trying to pass legislation to increase cooperation between ICE and local law enforcement.

The charges stirred controversy in the Greater Boston area as politicians, public safety officials and activists weighed in. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy called the arrests an unnecessary, political attack, while Gov. Charlie Baker supported the Supreme Judicial Court's decision to suspend Joseph without pay.

Rollins, who releases her policy objectives in a memo in March, said her office will take immigration status into account when charging and sentencing as even misdemeanor convictions could get someone flagged by immigration agents. She also asked assistant district attorneys, witness advocates or other employees to notify her if they see ICE agents arresting people scheduled to appear in court or asking them about their immigration status.

(c)2019, Springfield, Mass.

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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