Jeff Sessions and DHS Secretary John Kelly said in a letter to California’s Supreme Court Chief Justice that ICE agents will continue to trample on public safety by arresting undocumented immigrants at courthouses, despite local law enforcement and legal authorities saying this tactic will do more harm to communities in the long run. So much for this being the “law and order” regime:
The subject of ICE arrests at courthouses has been particularly sensitive in recent weeks between major cities and federal officials, as local jurisdictions have complained that arresting undocumented immigrants in courthouses has a chilling effect on their participation in prosecuting criminals as witnesses and reporting victims.
Los Angeles has said reporting of crimes like sexual assault and domestic violence are down by one-quarter in immigrant communities.
“Our courthouses serve as a vital forum for ensuring access to justice and protecting public safety,” [California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani] Cantil-Sakauye wrote in her letter earlier this month. “Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws.”
But DHS has maintained that courthouses are not considered “sensitive locations” and that apprehending individuals in controlled environments is safer than doing so on the street.
Safer for who, exactly? Late last month in Illinois:
A Chicago man was shot and seriously wounded by an Immigration and Custom Enforcement agent during a raid on a home in the city’s Belmont Cragin neighborhood Monday morning, authorities and the victim’s family say.
The circumstances surrounding the ICE raid remain unclear, but the man who was shot, Felix Torres, 53, was not the target of the operation, DNAInfo Chicago reports.
Torres and his wife are legal permanent residents of the United States. Their children are U.S. citizens. Several other people live in the house, but none of them are undocumented, the family says.
Sessions and Kelly also used the letter to shift blame onto cities, claiming ICE agents are at courthouses because pro-immigrant policies supposedly make their job of sweeping up immigrant families harder:
“Some jurisdictions, including the State of California and many of its largest counties and cities, have enacted statutes and ordinances designed to specifically prohibit or hinder ICE from enforcing immigration law by prohibiting communication with ICE, and denying requests by ICE officers and agents to enter prisons and jails to make arrests,” Sessions and Kelly wrote.
But as former American Immigration Lawyers Association president David Leopold wrote last month, ICE is free to conduct immigration operations in a sanctuary city—“as long as federal agents follow the law.”
“This is shameful intimidation of state and local government, pure and simple,” Leopold later tweeted about the courthouse arrests. “ICE presence at courthouses compromises law enforcement and public safety.”
Additionally, Sessions and Kelly took issue with Judge Cantil-Sakauye writing that ICE agents “appear to be stalking undocumented immigrants” in courthouses, even though that’s exactly what they appear to be doing. In Texas last February, ICE agents arrested an undocumented transgender woman as she was leaving court, where she was attempting to obtain a protective order against her abuser. Her advocates believe he may have tipped them off to her location. More from VICE:
ICE agents have detained suspects at courthouses in California, Arizona, Colorado, New York, Oregon, and Texas, and likely in other states as well. Critics of this tactic, including Cantil-Sakauye, point out that it creates a climate of fear that discourages victims of crime, sexual abuse, and domestic violence from showing up to court.
“The Trump Administration is placing its deportation strategy above basic common sense, the principles of federalism, and public safety considerations,” said immigrant rights leader Frank Sharry. “Domestic violence victims need protection, not deportation. Witnesses should be able to come forward without fear of being ripped away from home, family and work. The federal government should respect that local judicial and law enforcement officials should be the primary players in deciding law enforcement strategy.”
In Congress, Democrats have introduced legislation that would limit ICE actions in certain “sensitive” locations, including courthouses:
“Our communities are better and safer if all residents feel secure when accessing justice, seeking education and health care, or practicing their faith,” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) said Friday during a roundtable discussion about the proposed bill. “Recent ICE action targeting immigrants has been aggressive and mean-spirited, and it does not improve the safety of our communities.”
“We are especially concerned that DHS Secretary Kelly is standing with rather than up to the Trump Administration’s mass deportation blueprint,” said Sharry. “If he doesn’t serve as the adult in the room, he’ll be known as the enabler of Sessions.”