Advocates: Keep ICE Away from Local Courthouses

Advocates: Keep ICE Away from Local Courthouses

"For years, even as the number of deportations has climbed to record levels, immigration agents have generally refrained from questioning or detaining immigrants in and around locations deemed “sensitive,” including schools, houses of worship, hospitals and public demonstrations.  Now a growing lobby of immigrants’ advocates and politicians is seeking to add courthouses to that list.  Advocates argue that the use of courthouses by immigration officials deters undocumented immigrants from exercising their constitutional rights of due process; petitioning for redress of grievances, such as wage claims against employers; and satisfying their civic duties, such as paying traffic tickets.  Joanne Lin, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, said she had heard about dozens of cases since the beginning of 2013 in which immigrants have been interrogated or detained at courthouses, including while trying to attend hearings, get married or obtain a domestic violence restraining order.  “I have no doubt that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Ms. Lin said. “Courthouses need to be open, accessible and safe to all community members, regardless of immigration status.” ... Advocates said they did not know how immigration agents had selected certain immigrants for enforcement in courthouses.  Ms. Lin said officials may be using a combination of methods, including randomly questioning immigrants who are doing business at courthouses or cross-referencing criminal court dockets against federal immigration databases.  Some elected officials around the country have also been pressuring immigration authorities on the issue.  In Wisconsin, a group of state lawmakers sent a letter to the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement requesting that he order a halt to immigration interrogations and detentions at all Wisconsin courthouses.  A United States congresswoman from that state, Gwen Moore, a Democrat, has been soliciting signatures from her colleagues for a similar letter, which she plans to send to Jeh Johnson, the Homeland Security secretary, this week.  “By deterring people from utilizing court services, ICE is creating a culture of fear that undermines public safety and the ability of law enforcement and the state’s judicial system to carry out essential functions,” the letter reads." - NYT, May 27, 2014.