Since President Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017, courthouse arrests by ICE agents have skyrocketed by more than 1,700 percent in New York, leading to a widespread chilling effect on non-citizens willing to initiate and participate in the judicial system.
Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Sept. 25 challenging the legality of the agency’s practice of making civil immigration arrests without a judicial warrant or court order in and around New York State courthouses.
“The administration of justice and public safety are among the most important functions of the state, and I will be relentless in their defense,” James said. “When ICE targets witnesses and victims for arrests, it deters non-citizens and immigrants from assisting in state and local law enforcement efforts or protecting their own rights in court. This is a disastrous and dangerous break from previous policy and that’s why we are fighting to force them to end this practice.”
Nearly 400 immigrants, both undocumented and those with legal status, have been arrested while appearing in and around state courthouses since January 2017, including those accused of a crime; parents appearing in child support matters; survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and other crimes; people who are mentally ill or homeless; and LGBTQ individuals; among others. Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez joined the lawsuit saying, “Over the past two years, numerous immigrant victims and witnesses have refused to come forward and assist in our prosecutions out of fear they’ll be arrested in court by immigration agents, forcing my office to dismiss or reduce serious criminal cases.”
Queens Acting District Attorney John M. Ryan and the DA’s from Manhattan Staten Island and the Bronx did not join the lawsuit.
“The issue is does New York State have the authority to prevent federal agents from carrying out their duties,” Ryan said in a statement. “The issue is does New York State have the authority to prevent federal agents from carrying out their duties. I remain unconvinced that NY has the power to do that.”
An ICE spokesperson said its “enforcement activities at courthouses are consistent with longstanding practices nationwide. And, courthouse arrests are often necessitated by the unwillingness of jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the transfer of custody of aliens from their prisons and jails.”
The Legal Aid Society filed a second lawsuit seeking a permanent injunction ordering the halt of ICE courthouse enforcement on behalf of an individual plaintiff, a noncitizen domestic violence survivor who needed to appear in court for an order of protection, but feared the risk of an ICE arrest coming to the courthouse.
“New York State is home to more than 4 million non-citizens who are vulnerable to deportation,” The Legal Aid Society CE and Attorney-in-Chief Janet Sabel said. “In order for our judicial system, a pillar of our democracy, to operate effectively, it is fundamental that they have equal access to courts. ICE’s courthouse enforcement blatantly violates the constitutional rights of our clients, as well as all immigrant New Yorkers, and we look forward to addressing this injustice in court