Law-enforcement officials and immigrant-rights groups want a federal judge to block ICE from making arrests in and around courthouses.
NEW YORK — The fight over federal immigration agents’ presence in New York State courthouses is headed to court itself.
State law-enforcement officials and immigrant-rights advocates filed two federal lawsuits Wednesday that aim to block U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from arresting undocumented immigrants in and around local courthouses.
The practice — which has ramped up under the Trump administration — makes immigrants afraid to come to court as witnesses to crimes or to seek protection for themselves, officials and advocates say.
“ICE’s enforcement actions undermine the effectiveness of the court system as a whole, making it harder for the state to carry out its critical law-enforcement function, and it makes our communities less safe,” state Attorney General Letitia James said at a news conference in Foley Square, which sits between a state courthouse and ICE’s Lower Manhattan office.
James and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, both Democrats, filed one complaint in Manhattan federal court challenging ICE’s January 2018 policy on courthouse arrests.
The directive violates the state’s autonomy over its own courts and flouts “common law” protections against civil arrests, which do not require a warrant from a judge, in and around courthouses, the officials argue. They also say ICE’s policy is “arbitrary and capricious” under the federal Administrative Procedure Act.
Five advocacy groups joined an immigrant identified as John Doe in the second complaint, also in Manhattan federal court. It argues that ICE courthouse arrests violate the Constitution’s guarantees of access to court proceedings, equal protection under the law, and the right to a speedy trial.
ICE’s tactics have made John Doe, a Venezuelan and Spanish citizen, afraid to get an order of protection against his abusive ex-partner from state family court, the lawsuit says.
“The unprecedented surge of ICE arrests at our courts seeks to instill fear and deprive our community access to due process,” said Luba Cortés, the immigrant defense coordinator at Make the Road New York, one of the groups that brought the lawsuit.
Prosecutors, public defenders and immigrant-rights groups have all raised concerns about a spike in courthouse ICE arrests since President Donald Trump took office. There were 178 of them last year, up from 159 in 2017 and just 11 in 2016, according to a January report from the Immigrant Defense Project.
In an effort to curtail the practice, the state moved in April to bar ICE personnel from making arrests inside court buildings without a warrant or order issued by a federal judge. The directive did not explicitly ban ICE from making arrests just outside courthouse walls.
In response to the lawsuits, ICE placed blame local law-enforcement authorities who have declined to hand undocumented immigrants over to federal agents.
“ICE’s enforcement activities at courthouses are consistent with longstanding law enforcement practices nationwide,” ICE spokeswoman Rachael Yong Yow said in a statement. “And, courthouse arrest are often necessitated by the unwillingness of jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the transfer of custody of aliens from their prisons and jails.”