As arrests at courthouses by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers continue, a report released Tuesday by the Fund for Modern Courts suggests New York’s courts should limit their cooperation and assistance with civil immigration law enforcement.
So far this year ICE agents have arrested 52 people while they were in court in New York state, the majority in New York City, Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, told the New York Law Journal Tuesday. This is the first year the state’s court system has tracked ICE activities and arrests in courthouses. Expanded immigration enforcement actions under the Trump administration have resulted in increased arrests at courthouses nationally since the beginning of 2017, the report states.
The 24-page report issued by the justice system reform organization examined the impact of ICE arrests on New Yorkers’ access to state courthouses. It suggested actions that Chief Judge Janet DiFiore should take to mitigate the “negative impact on individuals and the courts resulting from ICE’s actions in courthouses.”
Among the suggestions is a proposal to limit the cooperation or assistance of court employees with civil immigration law enforcement to supplying just the information required by federal and state law, such as citizenship and immigration data, if asked.
The report also proposes that the Office of Court Administration prohibit court personnel from aiding civil immigration law enforcement agencies in “ways that go beyond the requirements in federal and state law.”
“OCA should bar court personnel from assisting civil immigration agencies in identifying their targets,” the report says. The OCA also should “prohibit court personnel from using their power over the entry and exit of courtrooms, hallways and other areas to restrict the movement of persons for the purpose of aiding in their apprehension by civil immigration enforcement agents.”
Chalfen said the OCA, including the chief judge, received the report Tuesday and are reviewing it.
A spokesperson for ICE did not answer a request for comment about the agency’s thoughts on the fund’s report.
The report was praised by the defense bar, which has been at the forefront of calling for greater action from the court system.
“As we have been saying for a while, and our staff will be calling for it this Thursday, we must stand up to the 900 percent increase of ICE courthouse arrests and we hope OCA will take immediate action in bold form,” Legal Aid Society spokesman Redmond Haskins said in a statement.
The fund’s report comes after news of arrests by ICE agents in courts across New York City has brought national attention to the issue. The latest arrest by ICE officers occurred last week in Brooklyn Criminal Court, where ICE agents detained Genaro Rojas-Hernandez as he was in court for a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.
The report goes on to suggest the New York State Unified Court system should require judicial warrants for immigration law enforcement actions conducted in New York courthouses, and another proposal that would require presiding judicial officers, who are informed of the presence of ICE agents, to notify the individual who is at risk of being detained.
In an effort to address the “negative impact” on people and courts resulting from ICE’s enforcement in courthouses, the unified court system should reduce the frequency in which undocumented individuals need to appear in court, the report added.
“OCA could waive the requirement for the defendant to appear physically for status conferences or other conferences where the defendant does not need to make decisions or provide testimony,” the report said. The OCA should allow undocumented immigrants to appear via telephone of video conference.
The OCA maintains a “continuing dialogue” with federal and local officials regarding ICE agents being in courthouses, Chalfen said.
“On a number of occasions, we have raised directly with local ICE officials, our serious concerns about ICE activity at certain locations, such as Family Court and Human Trafficking Court,” Chalfen said, noting that the OCA has requested to treat courthouses as sensitive locations for ICE agents, similar to schools, hospitals and places of worship.
Lee Wang, a staff attorney with the Immigrant Defense Project, called the fund’s report a “powerful set of recommendations that could really meaningfully stop or curtail what ICE is doing in the courts.”
Wang noted that the OCA released a set of protocols for ICE’s conduct in the courts back in April. However, since then, arrests have continued to increase, and ICE’s tactics have “clearly gotten more aggressive,” according to Wang. This has resulted in a “crisis point” for the courts, she said.
“The magnitude of arrests is so great that access to justice is being seriously undermined,” Wang said.
What the fund’s report calls for should be seen as a total package, and not something that can be implemented piecemeal, she said.
“You couldn’t just implement one of these rules selectively,” Wang stated.
New York isn’t the only state that’s seeing ICE agents arrest undocumented individuals at court. California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye assailed federal authorities for “stalking” undocumented immigrants at courthouses in California. Across the Hudson River, New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner in April also directly called on ICE to not arrest individuals in the state’s courts.
“In a lot of ways, I think it’s on the leadership of the Office of Court Administration to catch up to the rest of the community and really address this,” Wang said.