Immigrant Advocates, Speaker Mark-Viverito to OCA: Stop ICE Raids at Local Courthouses

New York City – LatinoJustice, The Legal Aid Society and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Rory Lancman joined with defender and legal services organizations, domestic violence and victims services advocates, community groups and stakeholders today at City Hall calling on New York State’s Chief Judge Janet Difiore and the Office of Court Administration to implement policies immediately to stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) courthouse raids that have proliferated under the Trump Administration and escalated in recent weeks.

This press conference comes after an ICE raid at Queens Criminal Court last Friday, which included the attempted arrest of a young woman appearing in Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court.

“ICE’s attempt this past Friday to arrest someone appearing in the Human Trafficking Court in Queens was just the latest manifestation of their arrogant interference with the administration of justice within NYS’ court system. This incident just reinforces ICE's complete disregard of our courts and its administrators” said Jose Perez, Deputy General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “LatinoJustice calls upon Chief Judge DeFiore to take immediate action to protect immigrant NYers and ensure their full and safe access to our court system by barring ICE from engaging in any enforcement in NYS courthouses unless they have a court order or arrest warrant.”

“Since day one of the Trump presidency, immigrant communities have been at risk and live in tremendous fear. From bans to raids, we have had to fight to protect our clients. Unfortunately, ICE has been using the New York State Courts to remove unsuspecting immigrants - breaking up families, scaring victims and driving people away. We implore OCA to set statewide policies that will make our Courts safe for those who must use them to seek justice,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society.

Under ICE’s new mandate, the agency has aggressively targeted and arrested immigrants appearing at courts around the country. This raises obvious concerns about courts being accessible for people to exercise basic legal rights including contesting an eviction, seeking a restraining order from abuse, or attending a custody hearing.

Current ICE policy directs agency personnel to avoid conducting enforcement activities at “sensitive locations.” The locations include schools, places of worship, and hospitals. Courthouses are not considered sensitive locations.

Since the beginning of 2017, there have been 38 total arrests and attempted arrests statewide. Of these incidents, 26 occurred in New York City, including 19 arrests. Arrests and attempted arrests have occurred in every borough. The breakdown of arrests and attempted arrests is 7 in Manhattan; 6 in Queens; 7 in Brooklyn; 4 in the Bronx and 2 on Staten Island.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF, The Legal Aid Society, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Council Member Rory Lancman were joined by The Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, Make The Road New York, Sanctuary for Families, Her Justice, Immigrant Defense Project, New York Immigration Coalition, Safe Horizon, New York County Defender Services, The Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Legal Services NYC, and other stakeholders

“ICE conducting raids in our courts proves that their goal is not to protect this country,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “This predatory tactic represents a new low for the agency, and disintegrates the trust that city officials have worked to cultivate with our immigrant communities. In fact, it makes our City less safe. ICE has no place in these protected spaces, and I am proud to join advocates in calling on Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks to act now to stop these actions. We are a sanctuary city, and stand committed to maintaining this status in the face of such abhorrent and intolerant practices.”

"ICE raids in New York City courthouses undermine our criminal justice system and ultimately make New Yorkers less safe. We should not force people to decide whether to show up in court or risk being deported. New York City courthouses must be secure venues where people can seek justice and defend themselves, not a place where ICE can target and arrest immigrant New Yorkers,” said Rory Lancman, Chair of the Committee on Courts & Legal Services.

“How can Sanctuary for Families and other domestic violence and sex trafficking service providers urge clients to trust the judicial system when the threat of arrest and deportation hangs over their heads? No one should be afraid to ask for help in a court of law. And ICE’s actions are spreading waves of fear among victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. If this continues, ICE will drive trafficking and domestic violence victims away from the important life-saving services the Courts offer and back into the world of violence they are trying so desperately to escape,” said Judge Judy Kluger, Executive Director, Sanctuary for Families.

“The presence of ICE at our courthouses is having an undeniable chilling effect on the most vulnerable of our clients,” said Amy Barasch, Executive Director of Her Justice. “Many of our foreign-born clients are scared to go to court to obtain protection from abusers, seek custody of their children, or obtain support to raise their children because they fear that no matter their immigration status, they or their family members may get deported when trying to seek help.”

"ICE's increased presence in our courts is seriously interfering with the administration of justice in NYC by sowing fear and confusion in our immigrant communities," said Sarah Deri Oshiro, managing director of the immigration practice of The Bronx Defenders. "Immigrant New Yorkers should not have to risk being picked up by ICE in order to get their day in court, appear as witnesses in legal proceedings, or file complaints. We call on the Office of Court Administration to do what is right and use its authority to stop these courthouse raids."

“IDP has been monitoring ICE arrests in New York City for the past four years. Since January, ICE has turned courthouses into places for agents to prowl, surveil and publicly arrest immigrants who are pursuing justice through the legal system. ICE agents routinely refuse to produce warrants or answer questions from attorneys; they also disappear people in the midst of important pending matters in the courts. ICE’s reprehensible tactics sow fear in immigrant communities and undermine the mission of the courts to provide equal access to justice. OCA has the authority to curtail ICE arrests in the courts and the time to act is now.” Mizue Aizeki, Deputy Director of the Immigrant Defense Project.

“ICE agents continue to try to terrorize immigrant New Yorkers, including by stalking members of our families when they show up for their court appearances. This practice increases the fear in our communities and decreases trust in the criminal justice system—making it less likely that witnesses and survivors of crimes will come forward. This practice hurts our families and makes us all less safe. It must end,” said Natalia Aristizabal, Co-Director of Organizing at Make the Road New York.

"These increasingly frequent incidents perpetuate the false narrative that all immigrants are criminals by frightening witnesses and victims, and interfering with due process. This latest incident underscores the need for the New York's Office of Court Administration to work with our communities to prevent ICE from using the criminal justice system as an unwitting accomplice. We will not make America great again by terrorizing immigrants at the expense of due process and our democratic principles," said Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

“Any ICE presence at our courthouses in New York is extremely troubling. It sends a resounding message that our courts are not safe spaces for litigants or their family members, survivors of crime, or members of our community. We call on the NYS Office of Court Administration to bar ICE from using our courtrooms and courthouses to engage in enforcement activities, and to stand behind their commitment to promote access to our justice systems for all New Yorkers. Everyone in our communities should be able to obtain safety, access due process, assert defenses, receive services, and appear as family support for others in the courtroom,” said Shani Adess, Esq., Senior Supervising Attorney, Immigration Law Project, Safe Horizon.

“The presence of ICE officers in criminal courthouses not only traumatizes those directly targeted, it spreads fear among a highly vulnerable population and dissuades people from exercising their due process rights before an institution that is meant to be a neutral arbiter of the law. The practice does great harm to the criminal justice system and to our society by weakening respect for our fundamental constitutional rights. OCA must discharge its responsibility to our justice system by acting immediately to bar ICE enforcement in its criminal courthouses,” Stan Germán, Executive Director -at New York County Defender Services.

"By targeting our non-citizen clients appearing in the City's Courts, ICE is creating an environment where New York City residents are afraid to enter our courthouses and interact with our justice system. We have seen ICE indiscriminately target clients for arrest and removal. These practices interfere with the City's ability to efficiently and effectively administer justice; they also needlessly, and counter-productively, rip families and communities apart. We call upon the City to ensure that all New Yorkers, citizens and non-citizens alike, can be able to safely, and without fear, engage with the Courts,” said Cornelius W. Cornelssen, Access to Justice Policy Fellow at Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem.

“Our clients are terrified to go to court to seek orders of protection, child support, and custody of their children. One client told me, ‘I should be able to go to court without having to be scared of getting arrested or deported’ and another said, ‘As an immigrant we have rights and should be safe trying to get help for our kids.’ I agree wholeheartedly, and am here to ask OCA to work with advocates and community members to make the courts safe for all New Yorkers,” said Terry D. Lawson Director, Family and Immigration Unit, Bronx Legal Services.

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