The New York State Office of Court Administration has halted the ability of US federal immigration officials to arrest Caribbean and other immigrants in state courthouses without warrants.
Court officials issued the directive last Wednesday after receiving numerous reports about agents from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency arresting immigrants after court appearances.
The non-profit organization, Legal Services NYC, said that a coalition of more than 100 organizations across New York State issued a new report on April 10 measuring the harmful impact of ICE’s increased courthouse arrests on vulnerable immigrants’ ability to access justice, including survivors of domestic and sexual violence, victims of human trafficking, single mothers and immigrant youth.
The report, which surveyed judges, district attorneys, public defenders, elected officials, and legal advocates from across the state, documents “irrefutable evidence of ICE’s devastating impact on New York State courts, including a 90 percent drop in calls made to immigrant hotlines reporting crimes in certain locations.”
The report also points to a 100 percent decline in U Visa certification requests from immigrant victims of crime in Manhattan Family Court and significant drops in other boroughs.
In addition, the report states that there’s a rise in ICE-related threats from abusive partners; a rise in victims afraid to testify or seek help from courts; and major ICE-related disruptions to court programs and practices.
“Stakeholders agree that New York State must take action,” Legal Services NYC said.
The report recommends the Office of Court Administration adopt new rules to protect equal access to justice in New York.
“The data and experiences of court practitioners in this report underscore what advocates have been trumpeting over the last two years — ICE enforcement in our courts is instilling fear in immigrant communities, preventing victims and survivors of abuse from getting the legal help they need to keep themselves and their families safe,” said Terry Lawson, director of the Family and Immigration Unit at Bronx Legal Services, the Bronx office of Legal Services NYC.
“When people cannot access the judiciary, when they cannot pursue or defend their rights, when they must choose to stay home rather than seek access to justice, then a crucial branch of our functioning society is in peril, and it is up to all of us to protect it,” he added. “We must safeguard our courts.”
Mizue Aizeki, acting executive director of the Immigrant Defense Project, another New York-based non-profit organization, said the different perspectives offered in the report “highlight the havoc that ICE’s practices are wreaking on the court system in New York State.
“Judges, public defenders, district attorneys, anti-violence advocates, elected officials and others have all repeatedly called on ICE to stop courthouse arrests,” he said. “Yet ICE continues to refuse, instead escalating courthouse arrests and spreading its disruptive and harmful tactics throughout New York State.”
New York State Attorney General, Letitia James, a former New York City Public Advocate, has also weighed in on the crisis.
“Safe and universal access to the court of law are key to a fair, democratic society and a basic requirement in the vindication of individual rights,” she said in a statement. “ICE’s indiscriminate campaign of courthouse arrests puts all New Yorkers at risk and goes against everything we stand for.”
Legal Services NYC said “The ICE Out of Courts Coalition” compiled the report over the last year after meeting with the New York State Unified Court System’s Office of Court Administration.
“ICE’s increased arrests in New York courts have resulted in a systemic denial of New York State residents’ full and equal access to the courts, creating a chilling effect on our courts, disrupting essential court functions, and discouraging immigrant victims of sexual and domestic violence, human trafficking, single mothers, and immigrant youth from seeking legal help,” Legal Services NYC said.
Caribbean American New York State Assembly Member Michaelle C. Solages, who represents Nassau County in Long Island, a New York City suburb said “all New Yorkers, regardless of income, race, religion or immigration status deserve the opportunity to engage our courts to advocate for themselves and their interests.
“Federal immigration agents coursing and arresting immigrants in our courthouses deters individuals from interacting with the judicial system which, in turn, endangers the safety of entire communities,” said the daughter of Haitian immigrants.
“I am proud to join the Immigrant Defense Project, SEIU 32BJ (labor union) and all the advocates to ensure that our courts remain safe spaces for all New Yorkers,” she added.
The Immigrant Defense Project said on Friday that it has documented an alarming 1700 percent increase in ICE arrests and attempted arrests across New York State under the Trump administration.
“As leaders of the ICE Out of Courts Coalition, we are coordinating a campaign to get #ICEOutofCourts in New York State,” the group said in a statement.
“Our statewide coalition of anti-violence advocates, public defenders, civil legal services providers, labor unions, and membership organizations have been calling on the New York State government — the Chief Judge, the legislature, and the governor — to stop ICE from targeting immigrant New Yorkers in the courts,” it added.
The Immigrant Defense Project said the new court rule comes after a two-year community campaign by “The ICE Out of Courts Coalition” pushing for court rules and legislation to keep ICE from “laying in wait” for immigrant survivors of violence, witnesses, defendants and family members in and around courthouses across New York.
Just last week, the coalition renewed the call for court rules in an 80-page report measuring the harmful impact of ICE’s increased courthouse operations.
“We have concluded that this report provides us with a sufficient basis to take the step that many have asked us to take to require that ICE present a judge-issued warrant before conducting an arrest in a state courthouse,” New York State Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks told the New York Law Journal.
“Although we’re not aware that any other court system in the country has taken this step, this comprehensive, well-documented report has convinced us that this change in policy is now appropriate and warranted.”
Earlier this year, ICE issued a memorandum stating that “officers and agents will conduct enforcement actions discreetly to minimize their impact on court proceedings.”
But it hastened to add that “courthouse arrests are often necessitated by the unwillingness of jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the transfer of custody of aliens from their prisons and jails.”