IRLI Goes after District Judge’s Creation of ‘Sanctuary Courthouses’

Press Releases

February 3, 2020

Shows state law may not block ICE arrests

WASHINGTON – On Friday, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) filed a friend-of-the-court brief in an appeal of a case that stands out as unusual even among the assaults that activists have been making on immigration enforcement in recent years. In this case, a group of plaintiffs in Massachusetts, including two county district attorneys, have sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in federal court to block ICE from arresting aliens in Massachusetts state courthouses.

Relying on a supposed Massachusetts common law privilege against arrests at courthouses, a federal district judge granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction.

The glaring problem with this ruling, as IRLI points out in its brief, is that federal law is supreme over state law, not the other way around. Applying a state common law privilege to block ICE arrests at courthouses – a course that might lead to armed confrontation between state and federal officers – would be repugnant to the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. To quote IRLI’s brief:

“Extended as far as the District Court extended it, the alleged state privilege would pit federal and state law enforcement officers against each other. For example, if Massachusetts relied on its state common law to prevent ICE from making arrests in state courthouses, and if court officers tried to enforce that policy by forcibly preventing ICE officers from entering Massachusetts courthouses, or forcibly preventing ICE officers from taking custody of aliens once inside, armed confrontations between state and federal officers, or attempts by each to place the other under arrest, would be the inevitable result. Needless to say, such a scenario would violate the Supremacy Clause.”

“The Supreme Court decided long ago that state law enforcement officers cannot stop federal agents from doing their duty to enforce federal law, wherever that duty takes them,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “A Massachusetts courthouse sits on territory that is part of the United States, and thus cannot be turned into a sanctuary from federal law enforcement. If it were otherwise, state law would be supreme over federal law. That is obviously an upside down view of the Constitution, and one that would lead to chaos, rather than the coexistence of local autonomy and national unity that the Constitution promotes.”

The case is Ryan v. ICE, No. 19-1838 (First Circuit).

For additional information, contact:

Brian Lonergan • 202-232-5590 • blonergan@irli.org

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