U.S. appeals court overturns bar on immigration arrests at Massachusetts courts

BOSTON (Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday overturned a ruling that barred U.S. immigration authorities from arresting immigrants who are in the country illegally when they make appearances at courthouses in Massachusetts.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a judge abused her discretion in finding that prosecutors in two of Massachusetts’ largest counties and public defenders could establish that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) lacked authority to conduct the civil arrests.

That June 2019 order was the first nationally to block ICE from carrying out courthouse arrests during an immigration crackdown under Republican President Donald Trump’s administration. A federal judge has similarly blocked such arrests in New York.

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan and others argued in a lawsuit that the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) incorporated a long-standing legal principle against civil courthouse arrests.

But U.S. Circuit Judge Bruce Selya, writing for a three-judge panel, said the court could not presume Congress intended to incorporate that privilege into the law.

Selya said it was not for the court to decide whether ICE’s strategy is sound public policy, saying “that question lies within the domain of the politically accountable branches of the federal and state governments.”

Rollins, a Democrat, in a statement called the ruling disappointing but said “this fight is far from over.”

In 2018, ICE adopted a directive to patrol courthouses in response to local governments refusing to transfer illegal immigrants to ICE upon their release from custody. Courthouses were one of the few reliable places to find people.

The Massachusetts lawsuit came after federal prosecutors in April 2019 charged Newton District Court Judge Shelley Joseph, which is in Middlesex County, with obstructing ICE from arresting an illegal immigrant at her courthouse. Her lawyers called the case political.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown