IRLI Takes on “Sanctuary Courthouses”

Press Releases

May 20, 2019

Shows state courts lack right to block ICE arrests

WASHINGTON – The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in a case that stands out as unusual even among the assaults that activists have been making on immigration enforcement in the last two 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.

Among the claims the plaintiffs make is that ICE violates principles of federalism and the Tenth Amendment, which reserves rights to the states, when ICE officers arrest removable aliens in state courthouses. IRLI combats this argument by pointing out that state courthouses themselves could never have a policy of blocking ICE arrests on their premises, because any such policy – which 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:

[A]ny attempt by state court personnel to prevent ICE, whether by legal process or force, from entering courthouses, or from arresting aliens inside, would present the specter of direct conflict between state and federal officers – a specter that is foreclosed by the Supremacy Clause. Also, a policy of preventing courthouse arrests by ICE often would compel court personnel to harbor illegal aliens, in violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1324, making it impossible for those personnel to obey both federal and state regulations. And, of course, if the Massachusetts courts were to adopt a policy of hindering or blocking ICE from making arrests in courthouses, that policy would frustrate congressional purposes, and be obstacle preempted.

Because, in light of the supremacy of federal law, Massachusetts cannot block ICE from making arrests in courthouses, ICE is fully within its rights under the Supremacy Clause when it makes such arrests, and consequently cannot be acting in violation of federalism or the Tenth Amendment.

“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 not our system, especially in the vital – and paradigmatically national – area of immigration law enforcement.”

The case is Ryan v. ICE, No. 1:19-cv-11003 (D. Mass.).

For additional information, contact: Brian Lonergan • 202-232-5590 • blonergan@irli.org

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