Suffolk County, Massachusetts District Attorney Rachael Rollins is suing ICE to stop its arrests of undocumented immigrants at courthouses.
Rollins filed a federal lawsuit in Middlesex County, Massachusetts District Court on Monday, alleging that ICE’s courthouse arrests have a side effect of scaring off defendants, victims, and witnesses who may be undocumented from showing up at courthouses for fear of being arrested.
When asked about the possibility of being arrested for stopping ICE arrests, the Suffolk District Attorney shrugged it off.
“I am in no fear of arrest,” Rollins said. “And very candidly, if I am, it would be my honor to be [arrested] because we need to stand up and be very, very bold about this ridiculous behavior that our president is engaging in right now.”
Rollins recalled a moment when she was at the county courthouse in January and witnessed undercover ICE agents suddenly apprehend an undocumented man from the African country of Cape Verde, who was in court awaiting a hearing for drug trafficking charges.
“I made a phone call to the attorney general immediately to say five plain-clothes individuals just dragged somebody into an elevator while he was yelling for his lawyer,” Rollins said.
ICE agents’ arrests of undocumented immigrants in courthouses is endemic of the Trump administration. In New York, for example, the Immigrant Defense Project found that courthouse arrests increased by approximately 1,700% in the first two years of the Trump presidency in comparison to the Obama presidency:
ICE operations increased not only in absolute number but grew in brutality and geographic scope. Agents, disguised in plainclothes, used intrusive surveillance and violent force to execute arrests. They also reached into many new areas of the state, conducting arrests in several upstate counties that were previously untouched. And ICE agents pursued New Yorkers in a broader range of courts—conducting operations in civil and criminal courts and in courts designed to be rehabilitative instead of punitive.
When she was elected as District Attorney, Rollins ran on a platform of de-prioritizing arrests of people for low-level, nonviolent offenses, saying those arrests contributed to a racist mass incarceration epidemic. This has angered some law enforcement officials, who argue Rollins is using the power of her office to undermine their work.
“ICE officers are federal law enforcement professionals who risked their lives every day and day out protecting our communities,” Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson told MassLive in a written statement. “Shame on anyone, especially elected officials sworn to protect their citizens, who sides with the lawbreakers over law enforcement.”
Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.