Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins to Investigate ICE for Arrest of Man at Hearing

Newly-sworn-in Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins was elected this past fall, in part on a promise to shake up business as usual. Now, she is looking to channel some of that reform into the immigration system.

Rollins says she will investigate Immigration and Customs Enforcement's arrest of an undocumented immigrant at a Boston courthouse earlier this month.

The 21-year-old immigrant had appeared at the Suffolk Superior Court for an arraignment on charges of trafficking cocaine on Jan. 7 when he was arrested by ICE agents.

"In courthouses, people deserve to feel free and comfortable coming forward," Rollins said. "If people are afraid of being detained or deported, victims aren't going to come forward, survivors aren't going to come forward, witnesses aren't going to come forward."

ICE's practice of taking undocumented immigrants into custody at court hearings unrelated to their immigration status has drawn ire from many legal practitioners. They fear that this will deter undocumented immigrants from coming to court for other charges or from testifying in other cases because of the threat of deportation.

Rollins said that she is not suggesting that ICE not be permitted to detain people, but that the way the arrest occurred was cause for concern.

"They could have detained this person in their home," Rollins said. "They could have detained this person as they left the courthouse, a mile down the street."

Immigration attorney Susan Church says the presence of ICE in courthouses has dramatically increased and it is creating a dramatic chilling effect on people's ability to get justice.

Under the Trump administration, Church says there are no more priorities for enforcement.

"It's just like wack-a-mole," she said. "Wherever you find somebody, pick them up, don't care about the consequences."

But others, like Republican activist Lou Murray, feel arresting and detaining an undocumented immigrant with a long criminal record in a safe place, like a courthouse, is exactly what ICE should be doing.

"ICE has said that they are a law enforcement agency and that they are selectively targeting the most aggressive and the most dangerous felons to go after in the Boston courthouse," he said. "This is not an any-and-all situation."

Rollins has drawn criticism from police organizations in the past for stating that she would not prosecute non-violent property crimes, which she calls "crimes of desperation." 

The National Police Association, a non-profit organization from Indiana, filed a bar complaint against Rollins back in December alleging that this practice would break Massachusetts Bar Association rules for enforcing laws passed by the state Legislature and put law enforcement officers in danger.

The Boston Globe also reported Tuesday that Rollins is currently filming a documentary series for Netflix. The series will focus on her election, her early days in office, and local criminal cases.

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