Former state and federal judges banded together to write a public letter addressed to federal immigration authorities, urging them to end the practice of waiting for and arresting immigrants at courthouses, published Wednesday.
The judges called out Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for carrying out enforcement activities like apprehensions, arrests, interviews, surveillance, and searches at courthouses, pointing out that courthouses should be added to the agency’s list of “sensitive locations.”
ICE has an established list of sensitive locations where agents are instructed to avoid conducting enforcement activities at unless “exigent circumstances” are present. At present, the list discourages making arrests at education institutions like schools and even daycares, health care facilities, places of worship, religious or civil ceremonies, and during public demonstrations.
The group of judges calling for the inclusion of courthouses includes 25 former state supreme court justices as well as 10 chief justices. In their letter, they remind the agency that they “know firsthand that for courts to effectively do justice, ensure public safety, and serve their communities, the public must be able to access courthouses safely and without fear of retribution.”
“Following nearly two years of high-profile ICE courthouse activity, only unequivocal guarantees and protections will restore the public’s confidence that it can safely pursue justice in our nation’s courts. We urge you to restore that confidence by adding courthouses to ICE’s list of ‘sensitive locations,’” the judges wrote.
Immigrant rights advocates, prosecutors, and other legal professionals called for a halt to the practice of arresting immigrants at courthouses in 2017. In response, ICE published its policies concerning courthouse arrests, assuring that it will be limiting but not terminating the practice. Courthouse immigration arrests were made in over 23 states since then.
The threat of being arrested while seeking justice at a courthouse has dissuaded immigrants from accessing the court system. California and Texas have seen a drop in Latino residents seeking protection orders, implying that domestic violence is on the rise but remains largely unreported and unprosecuted. Brooklyn and Denver district attorneys have noted that immigrant witnesses now refuse to cooperate for fear that appearing in a court of law would make them prone to arrest.
The judges claimed that courthouse attendees including victims, defendants, and witnesses cannot feel secure with ICE present, writing that “this sense of security requires that courts remain open to all and, just as important, that courts appear open to all.”
If you or a loved one is concerned about this recent spate of courthouse arrests, know your rights by talking to the immigration law experts of the Lyttle Law Firm. Call our offices today to learn more from immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.