tags: , , , Press Releases

ICE at Courthouses: Silences Victims, Rewards Criminals, Hurts Public Safety

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The Trump Administration is justifying its sweeping crackdown on immigrants in public safety terms, saying that they are focused on going after so-called bad guys. Yet, through their new reliance on making immigration arrests at courthouses, as well as their overall focus on deporting immigrants who have lived here for decades or more, ICE is doing the exact opposite.

Despite resistance from judges and local leaders and documented examples of the chilling effect that ICE’s courthouse presence has on overall public safety, ICE continues to defend the practice.

According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice Education Fund:

There’s a reason so many judges and prosecutors are asking ICE to stay out from their courthouses: it scares crime victims and witnesses away. Despite rhetoric that says otherwise, the Trump Administration is actually putting enforcement of civil immigration laws ahead of criminal cases. It’s despicable and dangerous.

Today, we have new examples from throughout the country detailing the disturbing rise in immigration enforcement at courthouses and the consequences for public safety. This includes the fact that ICE agents at courthouses are purposely identifying themselves as police, rather than immigration agents:

A Denver Post story, “ICE official tells Denver Mayor Michael Hancock that courthouse arrests will continue,” describes that, “In a matter-of-fact letter to Mayor Michael Hancock, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official states that his agents will continue searching for suspects at Denver’s courthouses, against local officials’ request they stop.” Mayor Hancock and other local leaders in Denver had sent an earlier letter to ICE which “warned that federal immigration officers’ actions are jeopardizing public safety by creating fear among immigrants. The city’s leaders specifically asked ICE to stop making arrests in courthouses and near schools and to refrain from identifying themselves as police because it has created confusion in the community as to who is a federal immigration agent and who is a city police officer.” However, in their dismissive reply letter, ICE stated that “agents will continue to identify themselves as police because it is the most universally recognized term for law enforcement … ‘ICE would fall short of its duty to promote public safety by branding itself with any marking that could lead a person to believe he or she is observing or encountering anyone other than a sworn law enforcement officer,’ the letter said.”

For law enforcement trying to build and maintain trust with immigrant communities, the fact that ICE is purposely trying to blur distinctions between immigration enforcement and local police is troubling – and has consequences on bringing real criminals to justice. For example, Denver city attorney Kristin Bronson recently reported that she had to drop multiple domestic violence cases due to undocumented women refusing to serve as witnesses due to fears over immigration enforcement at courthouses.

A Hartford Courant story, “Chief Justice of CT Supreme Court Asks ICE Not To Come To Courthouses,” details how the top judge of Connecticut’s Supreme Court, Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers, recently wrote a letter to AG Jeff Sessions and DHS Secretary John Kelly noting, “‘I believe that having ICE officers detain individuals in public areas of our courthouses may cause litigants, witnesses and interested parties to view our courthouses as places to avoid, rather than as institutions of fair and impartial justice.’ Rogers joins chief justices from Washington, New Jersey and California who have made similar requests … ICE officials have defended the tactic, saying they make arrests in courthouses only when all other options have been exhausted. But activists, attorneys and prosecutors fear ICE’s increased presence in courthouses could deter other immigrants without legal status from appearing in court to testify as witnesses or answer warrants, which ultimately could endanger prosecutions. ‘As you know, the judiciary relies on the public’s trust and confidence to fulfill its constitutional and statutory obligations,’ Rogers wrote. ‘We also reply on the public to comply with court orders and to show up in court when summoned to appear.’ Hartford’s mayor and police chief expressed a similar concern in March when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents wearing clothing identifying themselves as “police” showed up at the city’s public safety complex to meet a woman and take her into custody.”

A story in The Tennessean, titled “Immigration arrest at Nashville courthouse latest in national trend,” notes the arrest of a non-criminal immigrant at a Nashville courthouse yesterday: “Faustino Rodriguez Hernandez was set to appear before General Sessions Judge Lynda Jones related to a driving without a license charge, according to court records. While he was at the courthouse, an ICE agent arrived and took Hernandez into custody.” The story also quotes from Assistant Public Defender Mary Kathryn Harcombe, who noted that, “When the immigrant community believes there is an ICE presence in the courthouse, they are discouraged from showing up to court.

As The Guardian recently characterized:

With arrests of non-violent undocumented immigrants exploding across the country, it’s almost as if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are having an internal contest to see who can participate in the most cruel and inhumane arrest possible. The agency, emboldened by Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric, is out of control – and Congress is doing little to stop them … In a particularly dangerous policy, Ice been arresting people inside US courthouses around the country … It apparently doesn’t matter that the agency has faced stiff resistance from judges and prosecutors over this policy, who have both claimed that it will mean people won’t show up to court. And fears are not just conjecture.