Barbara Howard: Earlier this year, the highest court in Massachusetts ruled that local and state police cannot hold suspects based solely on pending immigration violations. Two months later, 50 undocumented immigrants were arrested across Massachusetts by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice cried foul saying that ICE was targeting Massachusetts in retaliation for that ruling. And now the Lawyers’ Committee has released a report they say shows that ICE is targeting state courts when it comes to arresting immigrants. Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal is the group's Executive Director, and he's with us on the line. Thank you for joining us.
Espinoza-Madrigal: Thank you, Barbara.
Howard: So how frequently are we seeing ICE taking people into custody at state courthouses?
Espinoza-Madrigal: We are seeing a disturbing spike. This is something that started after the election, and we had heard about it anecdotally from immigrants’ rights advocates on the ground, who had seen this type of enforcement activity in courtrooms and around courthouses.
Howard: Is this happening more in courthouses in so-called sanctuary cities? You know, cities that have guidelines limiting how police can cooperate with federal immigration authorities or is it more broad?
Espinoza-Madrigal: This is broader. It is targeting courthouses across Massachusetts, we believe, in retaliation for recent court rulings and protocols that have been put into place to limit the arrest of individuals based solely on federal civil immigration detainers.
Howard: When ICE comes and detains people at the state courthouses, are these the bad hombres that the president was talking about?
Espinoza-Madrigal: Absolutely not. What we are seeing is an enforcement regime that is sweeping up everybody. This broad enforcement activity goes beyond criminal offenders, and it includes many people with minor traffic infractions.
Howard: There have been concerns raised about what kind of chill effect that this has on immigrants who are afraid to go to courthouses. Are you hearing that too?
Espinoza-Madrigal: This really scares people from being able to come forward as victims or witnesses of crimes. It prevents women who are victims of domestic abuse from coming forward to get a restraining order against their abusers. If people know that they will be detained by immigration at the courthouse steps, they will avoid the courthouses.
Howard: Have judges weighed in about this?
Espinoza-Madrigal: In our report, we reference a number of judges who have raised serious concerns. Judges, from their perspective on the bench, are seeing how this is affecting the administration and access to justice.
Howard: In your organization's report, you claim ICE is targeting Massachusetts courthouses in retaliation for a court decision that came down earlier this year and that limited police and other agencies from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. You say that this is a way for the federal authorities — ICE — to circumvent that state ruling?
Espinoza-Madrigal: Our state is being selected for this type of reckless enforcement because the federal government is concerned with the immigrant-friendly policies, decisions, and protocols that we have in place in Massachusetts.
Howard: What evidence do you have of that?
Espinoza-Madrigal: The strongest evidence comes in the form of email communication back and forth among immigration officials. They reference the Lunn decision and other immigration protocols that we have in place.
Howard: The Lunn decision being of course that earlier court decision that cuts off police cooperation with the federal authorities on this.
Espinoza-Madrigal: Yes. We submitted a request for public records that disclosed a vast amount of information about the enforcement activities in Massachusetts courthouses. We have received e-mails from the federal government that shows back and forth discussion about immigrant-friendly rulings coming from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
Howard: So you're saying that that's why our courthouses more than in other states are being targeted?
Howard: OK, thanks for joining us, Mr. Espinoza-Madrigalis.
Espinoza-Madrigal: Thank you very much.
Howard: That's Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal. He is the Executive Director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. WGBH News did reach out to ICE. The agency did not comment on the claim of retaliation, but noted that it considers courthouses fair game when it comes to enforcement, saying that courthouses can provide immigration agents their best and safest opportunity to locate individuals that they are looking to arrest.