Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman have called for the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to stop conducting raids on undocumented Caribbean and other immigrants in New York State courts.
Instead, the law enforcement officials on Thursday, Aug. 3 urged ICE to “recalibrate their priorities so crime victims and witnesses are not targeted for removal proceedings.”
Puerto Rican-born Gonzalez and Schneiderman told a press conference that instances of arrests and attempted arrests by ICE in courts have spiked about five-fold this year compared to 2016.
As a result, they said a growing number of victims have expressed reluctance to move forward with criminal prosecutions due to fear of being deported.
“While ICE has designated certain locations such as schools, medical facilities and places of worship as sensitive locations, where it does not carry out enforcement actions, it has so far refused to designate courthouses as sensitive locations,” the officials said.
“The result is that a large segment of New Yorkers is now discouraged from appearing in state courts, including in housing disputes, to obtain orders of protection or to settle important matters such as child custody,” they added.
Gonzalez said that while US federal authorities claim they are making America safe again, “the truth is that their immigration enforcement policies are making all of us less safe.
“We encounter more and more victims and eyewitnesses to crime, who are fearful of moving forward because of immigration status,” he said. “And we see arrests by ICE spiking in our courthouses, including Family Court and courts dedicated to helping human trafficking victims and those with mental health issues.
“We must not allow a large number of our residents to live in the shadows and stop cooperating with law enforcement,” Gonzalez added. “But the Trump Administration is now creating this dangerous reality.
“ICE should treat courthouses as sensitive locations, like it does schools and houses of worship, to allow everyone free access to our justice system and stop the chilling effect felt by victims and witnesses,” he continued.
Gonzalez said he has been leading efforts to protect immigrants by creating a policy this spring to offer non-citizens plea offers that avoid collateral immigration consequences, hiring two immigration attorneys to advise his staff and holding monthly immigration forums to educate community members about common scams and how to avoid them.
On Aug. 8, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office will hold a symposium for legal professionals on the intersection of criminal law and immigration law.
Reports say that the US federal government’s current emphasis on deporting undocumented Caribbean and other immigrants — even those facing low-level charges — has, as a result, turned courthouses in New York State into arenas where practitioners of criminal law face off against enforcers of immigration law.
In New York City, judges, defense lawyers and clients have been on high alert for months, watching to see if immigration enforcement officers, many in plain clothes, are in a courthouse, according to the New York Times.
“If a pair of people look suspicious, lawyers from the Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services and the Legal Aid Society send an internal email alert. Defendants duck into bathrooms or race to another floor,” reported the paper on Thursday.
“When officers for United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, are thought to be in a courthouse, a sympathetic judge might reschedule a defendant’s appearance, or, in a seemingly perverse move, set bail that could send a defendant to Rikers Island [jail] — keeping the person out of ICE’s hands because the jail complex does not turn over undocumented immigrants to the agency,” it added.
New York State policy prohibits ICE officers from making arrests inside courtrooms. They must do their work in a hallway or outside a building, the Times said.
“I am asking ICE to reconsider their policy and treat the courthouse with respect,” Gonzalez urged.
There has been increased deportation of Caribbean and other immigrants since US President Donald J. Trump took office in January. Trump had run on a campaign of deporting undocumented immigrants in the country.
On Tuesday, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released data showing “a significant prison population of incarcerated aliens [immigrants].”
The DOJ said its Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has “an operational process” for maintaining data regarding foreign-born inmates in its custody.
On a daily basis, the DOJ said the BOP supplies this information to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which, “in turn, analyzes that information to determine the immigration status of each inmate and provides that information back to BOP.”
As part of satisfying the DOJ’s second quarterly report of this information, the DOJ provided information regarding immigrants currently incarcerated under the supervision of BOP. The DOJ said this information is current as of June 24.
Out of the 187,855 inmates in BOP custody, the DOJ said 42,034 are foreign-born, with 19,749 (46.9 percent) being immigrants who have received final orders of removal.
The DOJ said 21,121 (50.2 percent) are immigrants who are under ICE investigation for possible removal; 1,157 (2.8 percent) are immigrants whose cases are pending adjudication before an immigration judge in the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR); and seven (.0002 percent) are immigrants who have been granted relief.
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