Wall Street Journal
By Corinne Ramey
June 29, 2017
New York City Council members and advocates for immigrants railed against federal immigration agents in courthouses, saying their presence undermined public safety and made noncitizens afraid to appear in court.
Those testifying at a City Council committee hearing Thursday said that in the past few months, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents increasingly have entered city courthouses, making some immigrants hesitant to make appearances, whether as defendants, victims or witnesses.
ICE agents have appeared 34 times and made 21 arrests in state courthouses in New York City since February, according to a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration.
“We’re hearing fears, we are seeing people not show, we are watching our clients be shackled and taken away from their families,” Tina Luongo, an attorney at public-defender organization the Legal Aid Society, said during the hearing. Those arrested included people with and without criminal histories, she noted.
A spokeswoman for ICE didn’t respond to requests for comment.
In March, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly wrote a letter to the chief justice of California in which they said so-called sanctuary cities’ lack of cooperation with its agents, particularly in barring them from jails and prisons, makes courthouse enforcement necessary. “As a result, ICE officers and agents are required to locate and arrest these aliens in public places, rather than in secure jail facilities,” they wrote.
Earlier this month, ICE agents went to the Human Trafficking Intervention Court in Queens and sought to arrest a woman who was about to have prostitution charges dismissed, said City Council Member Rory Lancman, a Queens Democrat who chairs the council’s Committee on Courts and Legal Services. ICE wanted to arrest the woman for overstaying a tourist visa, he said.
“This is the choice too many immigrant New Yorkers are now being forced to confront: Show up in court or get deported,” Mr. Lancman said. The woman’s lawyers asked bail be set and that she be jailed. The agents left the courthouse and she ultimately was released, he added.
Many arrests occur in the vestibule outside courtrooms, public defenders said. A court officer typically tells the lawyer to wait while a client enters the vestibule; the client is then approached by ICE agents, said Stan Germán, executive director of New York County Defender Services, a public-defender group.
City council members and those who testified Thursday suggested the court system do more to keep ICE agents out of its buildings. They brainstormed various actions, including a lawsuit, that the council or others could take.
The City Council has no official oversight of the state courts. The Office of Court Administration, which oversees the state courts, said in a statement that it was committed to the safety of all New Yorkers.
“We maintain a continuing dialogue and have met with federal officials on a local and national level to convey our concerns and request that they treat courthouses as sensitive locations, similar to schools, hospitals and places of worship,” the spokesman said.
Under ICE policies, agents typically don’t enter places such as schools or churches, but they don’t view courthouses as sensitive locations.
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