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Wa. State Attorney General, Dec. 17, 2019
"Attorney General Bob Ferguson today filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump Administration for arresting immigrants in and near courthouses in Washington. This practice is harmful to public safety and Washington’s justice system.
Since 2017, immigration authorities have arrested hundreds of immigrants in or near courthouses in Washington. Contrary to the assertions of immigration officials, evidence shows these arrests are not limited to dangerous individuals. Many were victims of crime or appeared in court on nonviolent charges, such as traffic offenses, with no prior criminal record. Others were there to register motor vehicles, pay traffic tickets or accompany a relative to court.
“If immigration officials can demonstrate that their courthouse arrests only target dangerous criminals, I will drop this lawsuit,” Ferguson said. “But they won’t do that because they can’t. The federal government has arrested many people who are simply trying to access justice for themselves or their families. That’s illegal, it makes us all less safe, and it needs to stop.”
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs & Border Protection (CBP), asserts the courthouse arrests are unlawful and unconstitutional. DHS’s conduct creates a barrier to justice for immigrants and makes the public less safe.
Anyone with information to share about federal immigration arrests at or near courthouses in Washington state, including anyone impacted by the practice, should contact the Attorney General’s Office by calling (833) 660-4877 and choosing option 6 from the menu. Messages may be left in any language. You may also email the Attorney General’s Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A judge in Massachusetts recently issued an injunction blocking the practice of courthouse arrests in Massachusetts while a separate lawsuit challenging the practice continues. “Each day that the threat of ICE arrests looms over Massachusetts courthouses… some state criminal and civil cases may well go unprosecuted for lack of victim or witness participation,” the judge wrote.
DHS arrests individual at courthouses with no prior conviction or criminal histories
Since 2017, hundreds of civil immigration arrests at courthouses have been reported in Washington, occurring in 20 counties across the state: Adams, Benton, Clark, Cowlitz, Franklin, Grant, Grays Harbor, King, Kitsap, Kittitas, Mason, Okanogan, Pacific, Pierce, Skagit, Spokane, Thurston, Walla Walla, Whatcom and Yakima.
In January 2018, DHS formally issued a directive and “FAQs” admitting to its enforcement practices at courthouses. The documents suggest that arrests at courthouses target specific individuals, including those with “criminal convictions, gang members, national security or public safety threats.”
Contrary to the public justifications provided by DHS, the Attorney General’s Office uncovered significant evidence that many of the people DHS has arrested at courthouses in Washington have no prior convictions or criminal histories. Many were in court for routine proceedings like traffic infractions. DHS has also detained crime victims or those appearing in court to protect themselves against violence — for example, by seeking protection orders against abusers.
Courthouse arrests are making the public less safe
Courthouses are critical institutions of the criminal justice system. The Attorney General’s Office uncovered evidence statewide that DHS’s conduct causes witnesses, victims, and others to refuse to enter courthouses. Their refusal to participate in the criminal justice system reduces public safety.
DHS’s conduct deters victims of crimes from making reports to state and local law enforcement, allowing criminals to go free. For example, a Washington resident who was robbed while trying to rent an apartment refused to report the crime because he was afraid DHS would arrest him if he went to the courthouse.
In a declaration, Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim wrote, “Specifically, undocumented domestic violence victims have expressed to their advocates that they no longer feel safe reporting abuse to the authorities for fear of deportation. This leaves them and their family at high risk of abuse. The perpetrators with legal status use that privilege as an additional control tactic against undocumented victims by consistently threatening to deport them and separate them from their children.”
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg wrote, “No one is safer when crime victims fear being deported if they call 911, talk to police, or come to the courthouses to testify or get protection. Unpunished violent crime threatens us all, and the current DHS policy of conducting immigration arrests at state and local courthouses jeopardizes public safety.”
“Treated like an animal”
The Attorney General’s Office obtained nearly 40 declarations from Washingtonians who have witnessed or experienced the impacts of the federal government’s courthouse arrests, including judges, prosecutors, public defenders, defense attorneys, court administrators, court interpreters and community advocates.
Individuals have a constitutional right to access courthouses. Civil arrests that take place in and around courthouses violate long-standing common law privileges against such arrests. DHS’s conduct violates the Tenth Amendment, which provides states the autonomy to control the operation of their judiciaries and prosecute crime without federal interference.
The courthouse arrests also violate the Administrative Procedure Act, which prevents the federal government from enacting a policy that violates the law. Congress has not granted DHS the authority to conduct courthouse arrests, and the agency failed to consider the harm the policy would cause to state courts.
Civil Rights Division Chief Colleen Melody and Assistant Attorneys General Marsha Chien and Mitch Riese with the AGO’s Wing Luke Civil Rights Division are handling the case for Washington.
Ferguson created the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division in 2015 to protect the rights of all Washington residents by enforcing state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Ferguson named the division for Wing Luke, who served as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Washington in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He went on to become the first person of color elected to the Seattle City Council and the first Asian-American elected to public office in the Pacific Northwest.
Lawsuits against the Trump Administration
Ferguson has now filed 53 lawsuits against the Trump Administration and has not lost a case. Ferguson has 24 legal victories against the Trump Administration. Fourteen of those cases are finished and cannot be appealed. The Trump Administration has or may appeal the other 10, which include lawsuits involving Dreamers and 3D-printed guns. No court to rule on the merits of the Attorney General’s arguments in a lawsuit against the Trump Administration has ruled against the office."