Tani Cantil-Sakauye Jason Doiy/ALM

California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye on Tuesday pushed back against criticism of her pleas to federal authorities to stop courthouse arrests of undocumented immigrants, telling a Sacramento gathering that she’s challenging arrest policies, not immigration laws.

“If you’re here, whatever your status, you enjoy the benefits of the laws of the state,” Cantil-Sakauye told judges, lawyers and legislative staffers attending the Women in the Court Legislative Day at California’s Capitol. A federal policy, not a law, “is superseding all of the other causes of justice,” she said.

Cantil-Sakauye in March assailed federal authorities for what she described as “stalking” undocumented immigrants in state courthouses, saying the arrests dissuade potential witnesses and victims from coming to court. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials acknowledged the courthouse arrests. Court documentation and the buildings’ security screenings provide a safe place for agents to locate and detain targets, they said.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly promptly fired back at Cantil-Sakauye in a letter, criticizing her use of the word “stalking” as well as prison and jail officials who don’t cooperate fully with immigration agents.

Cantil-Sakauye said her office has not tracked the number of arrests that have occurred but added that she and her staff hear regular anecdotal reports from court leaders that the ICE actions are continuing at courthouses. Cantil-Sakauye said she heard similar stories at a recent conference of chief justices in Philadelphia.

“It’s a national concern that deserves more attention … because we’re seeing people not come to court, not reporting to court, not coming for services, not coming to testify,” the chief justice said. “We are changing the way people think and feel about the law and justice and protection by this policy of immigration enforcement.”

Outside of courthouses, states and cities continue to fight President Donald Trump’s policies on immigration.

Last week, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed two suits challenging restrictions the Trump administration has placed on giving federal law enforcement grants to so-called sanctuary cities. Earlier this month, lawyers at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr filed a similar suit on behalf of Chicago.

Cantil-Sakauye said she has received angry letters and threatening messages from the public in response to her comments. And, she said, she knows some of the 2,000 judicial officers in the state disagree with her position on the courthouse arrests. She said she respects the differences in opinions so long as they don’t lead to “squabbl[ing] among ourselves.”

“I just think that California is on the right side of history on this,” she said.