Attorney General James Leads Coalition Fighting to Halt Immigration Arrests at State Courthouses

AG James Leads 14 AGs in Filing Amicus Brief Supporting
Local Massachusetts Lawsuit Against DHS and ICE

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James has led a coalition of 14 attorneys general in continuing efforts to halt federal immigration arrests of noncitizens in and around state courthouses without a judicial warrant or court order. In an amicus brief filed in support of the plaintiffs in Ryan, et al. v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, et al., Attorney General James and the coalition urge the court to uphold a Massachusetts district court’s preliminary injunction that effectively halted these arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Today’s amicus brief follows a suit Attorney General James filed last year challenging the legality of the federal government’s expanded policy of arresting immigrants in or around state courthouses in New York, and an amicus brief she filed earlier this year opposing the same policy in the State of Washington.

“ICE’s continued efforts to arrest immigrants at or near state courthouses endanger us all and threaten every New Yorker’s safety,” said Attorney General James. “These unconstitutional arrests have skyrocketed since President Trump took office, as the president has pushed an anti-immigrant agenda for purely political reasons. ICE’s unlawful arrests clearly trample all over states’ rights, obstruct true justice from being carried out, and unnecessarily threaten immigrants for cheap political points, which is why our coalition will continue to fight them every step of the way. At the same time, we will continue to pursue our own lawsuit against ICE to halt these illegal arrests that have had a chilling effect here in New York.”

In April 2019, both the Middlesex County district attorney and the Suffolk County district attorney in Massachusetts, along with a number of immigrant advocates, sued ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), among others, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, arguing that the federal government’s policy and practice of arresting noncitizens — both undocumented and those with legal status alike — at or around state courthouses violated the Administrative Procedure Act; the Tenth Amendment; and the right of access to courts, which is protected by the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to immediately halt the Trump Administration’s policies and were successful. The Trump Administration appealed the preliminary injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Attorney General James is now leading the coalition in urging the appellate court to affirm the lower court’s order; arguing that the federal government has been pursuing its expanded arrest policy in all of the states that are filing this brief, in violation of its statutory authority and the common law privilege against civil arrests at courthouses. These unlawful arrests have made it increasingly difficult and sometimes impossible for state judiciaries and prosecutors to maintain the open, safe, and fair courts that are necessary for the orderly administration of justice and the preservation of public safety, since many immigrants are now afraid to report crimes, testify in court, or cooperate with law enforcement or prosecutors.

The amicus brief further explains that the federal government’s practice of conducting civil immigration arrests is deeply harmful to the effective functioning of the states’ court systems and has specifically interfered with state judicial proceedings and the ability of states to pursue criminal prosecutions.

Last September, Attorney General James and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez filed their own lawsuit against ICE and DHS in New York, challenging the legality of the federal government’s expanded policy of arresting immigrants in or around state courthouses. The suit seeks to halt a three-year pattern of civil immigration arrests by federal ICE agents in and around state courts, which have caused a major disruption to state court operations. By targeting witnesses and victims for arrests, noncitizens and immigrants are deterred from assisting in state and local law enforcement efforts or protecting their own rights in court. As a result, valid prosecutions have been abandoned — or never pursued — making communities less safe.

After Attorney General James and District Attorney Gonzalez filed their lawsuit, President Trump and his Administration immediately filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but, in December, Judge Jed Rakoff of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied the motion, saying, “Courts cannot be expected to function properly if third parties (not least the executive branch of the government) feel free to disrupt the proceedings and intimidate the parties and witnesses by staging arrests for unrelated civil violations in the courthouse, on court property, or while the witnesses or parties are in transit to or from their court proceedings.”

Earlier this year, both sides in the New York case asked the district court to rule expeditiously in the case, and earlier this month the court heard oral arguments on both plaintiffs’ and defendants’ motions for summary judgment.

Attorney General James also led a coalition of attorneys general in filing an amicus brief in a Washington lawsuit against DHS, ICE, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection in January, over these three agencies’ practice of arresting noncitizens without a judicial warrant or court order in and around state courthouses in the State of Washington.

Since President Trump took office, ICE courthouse arrests have skyrocketed in New York — leading to a widespread, chilling effect on noncitizens’ willingness to initiate and participate in the judicial system. Hundreds of immigrants have been arrested while appearing in and around state courts since January 2017, including those accused of a crime; parents appearing in child support matters; survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and other crimes; people who are mentally ill or homeless; and LGBTQ+ individuals; among others. These arrests have happened on a near-daily basis.

Moreover, ICE courthouse arrests disrupt court functions, trample the due process rights of the accused, imperil public safety, and deter immigrants from reporting crimes. By using the court system to trap immigrants for detention and deportation, ICE is effectively keeping immigrants from ever accessing state courts in the first place and actively interfering with and violating the rights of individuals, associations, and organizations across the state.

Joining Attorney General James in filing today’s amicus brief are the attorneys general of Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

New York’s lawsuit is being handled by Chief Counsel for Federal Initiatives Matthew Colangelo, Special Counsel Matthew Eisenson, Special Counsel Morenike Fajana, Assistant Attorney General Fiona Kaye, Assistant Attorney General Anjana Malhotra, Assistant Attorney General Daniela Nogueira, Assistant Solicitor General Ari Savitzky, Data Scientist Chansoo Song, Deputy Director of Research and Analytics Megan Thorsfeldt, and Deputy Solicitor General Steven Wu.

Today’s amicus brief was handled by Assistant Solicitor General Ari Savitzky, Deputy Solicitor General Steven C. Wu, and Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood.