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New York Creates Rule to Melt ICE’s Presence in the State’s Courthouses

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“All New Yorkers, regardless of income, race, religion or immigration status, should have the opportunity to use the court system to advocate for themselves and their interests.”
— Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages–

The first of its kind in the country, the New York State Office of Court Administration issued a directive Wednesday April 17th, 2019, barring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers from arresting immigrants at state courthouses without a warrant signed by a federal judge. In addition to the judicial warrant (as opposed to an administrative warrant), judges must now be informed of ICE’s presence within the courthouses so that they can review and sign the warrant prior to an individual’s detention.

The directive was introduced in response to a huge uptick in ICE activity in New York courthouses. Plain clothed ICE officers have been sprouting up imposingly throughout New York’s courthouses, detaining individuals suspected of being in the United States without authorization.

The Immigrant Defense Project announced in January 2019 that ICE activity in NY courthouses has ramped up 1,700% since Trump took office. Read that number again: ICE activity has ramped up one thousand and seven hundred percent since January 20, 2017. According to the IDP, in 2016, there were only 11 reported sightings of immigration authorities at courthouses. In 2017, there were 172 such reports. In 2018, there were 202 reports, 178 of which were courthouse arrests.

The report also found that ICE has vastly increased its use of force and its arrests of young adults, including those eligible for deportation relief. There have been incidents of slamming immigrants against walls, holding them at gunpoint, shouting accussations. Understandably, the courts have become a place to fear in the eyes of immigrant communities. As Justine Olderman, executive director of the Bronx Defenders said, “They pit the fear of deportation against our clients’ need to exercise their rights in the legal system.”

Across the country, attorneys and former judges have been petitioning courts and lawmakers to treat courts as “sensitive locations,” similar to school, hospitals, and places of worship. The prevalence of the agents and their arrests in New York’s courtrooms, they argue, is deterring crime victims and witnesses from using the courts. Without national security matters or a risk of violence, ICE should be barred from making courthouse arrests.

Since the issuance of the directive, immigrant advocacy organizations have advocated the rule as a model for other courts to put protections in place:

“This rule change is a big win for thousands of immigrants and their families across New York state who will no longer be sitting ducks in the courtroom. We can now advise the women, men, and children we represent that ICE cannot arrest them in New York state courts without a warrant with their name on it, signed by a judge. We applaud the Office of Court Administration for taking this historic step and hope other state court systems follow suit.” While in many states, federal and state bills to place restrictions on immigration enforcement has stalled, there is hope that New York’s rule will spring them back into gear.

With this win comes excited pressure from advocacy organizations to go further, such as to pass the Protect Our Courts Act, which would prohibit ICE agents from making arrests in parking lots and areas outside the courthouses:

“To truly reverse the corrosive impact that they have had on our court system, we must pass the Protect Our Courts Act and fully expel ICE from our courthouses. As long as ICE is allowed to attend court and surveil our clients, we cannot assure them that their worst fears won’t be realized simply by attending their court hearing.”

To learn more about the impact of ICE enforcement in New York’s courts, read the Immigrant Defense Project’s report, “The Courthouse Trap: How ICE Operations Impacted New York’s Courts in 2018” and the ICE Out of Courts Coalition report, “Safeguarding the Integrity of Our Courts: The Impact of ICE Courthouse Operations in New York State.”