LatinoJustice Urges NYS Chief Judge to Stop ICE agents from Stalking Immigrants in Courthouses

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 4, 2017

Contact: John Garcia, Director of Communications, 212-739-7513, 917-673-9095 or jgarcia@latinojustice.org

Allowing immigration agents to stalk and arrest undocumented immigrants in courthouses undermines the judicial system and results in “separating children from parents, breaking up families who have lived together for decades,” and could cut off many immigrants from legal representation, according to a letter sent from LatinoJustice PRLDEF to New York State Chief Justice Hon. Janet DeFore.

Ensuring the public’s access to courts should be paramount, the letter states. United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents should be asked to refrain from seizing and arresting immigrants while they are in New York State courthouses, according to LatinoJustice.

“Courthouses should not be used as bait for ICE agents,” said LatinoJustice PRLDEF President and General Counsel Juan Cartagena. “Courthouses need to be safe places where people can get and access justice. All communities are safer when all residents feel safe when accessing justice, seeking help or getting information.”

Soon after receiving a letter from the California’s Chief Justice last month asking them to stay away from courthouse, ICE responded by saying courthouse arrests are made, "only after investigating officers have exhausted other options" and "every effort is made to take the person into custody in a secure area, out of public view, but this is not always possible."

ICE does not consider courthouses sensitive locations, the agency states on its website. Places where agents generally avoid making arrests include schools, hospitals, churches and ceremonies, the ICE guidelines state.

“It is neither safe nor fair for ICE agents to be sitting around the courthouse stalking immigrants,” said Foster Maer, Senior Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “The vast majority of these people pose no risk to public safety.” Recent data from Los Angeles police suggests Latinos have in fact become more reluctant to report crimes since President Trump was elected.

The practice of arresting undocumented immigrants at courthouses isn't new. It has been reported in previous years and has triggered outcry from immigration advocates and lawyers. But increased arrests at courthouses since President Trump took office have raised concerns from immigration lawyers, who say such practices will have a chilling effect and deter victims from reporting crimes.

A March 27, 2017 New York Law Journal article detailed several such arrests and noted that a representative for ICE confirmed that these arrests were occurring, according to the letter. Since February, when officials with the New York City court system began tracking ICE's interactions with litigants at city courthouses, there have been six encounters, of which three have resulted in arrests, said court system spokesman Lucian Chalfen.

One of the encounters described in the article occurred March 17 in Brooklyn Family Court where ICE agents seized and arrested someone who had appeared in court with respect to a child support matter. That three of the six encounters did not result in arrests could be troubling if they were the result of misidentifications. In none of these cases did it appear ICE had obtained a judicial warrant to conduct the arrest.

You can read the letter here.

We also released a Sanctuary report designed to equip state and local jurisdictions and institutions with much-needed guidance to establish community policies that welcome and protect immigrants. You can read the report here.

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