Courthouse Immigration Raids Challenged in New York

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announces a federal lawsuit Wednesday, Sept. 25, that challenges the trend of immigration raids at state courthouses. In the center of the second row is New York Attorney General Letitia James, who collaborated in the suit. (Photo by JOSH RUSSELL/Courthouse News Service)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Blasting courthouse immigration raids as antithetical to public safety, New York prosecutors announced a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the Department of Homeland Security.

“Witnesses to violent crimes on the streets of New York City have decided not enter into our court,” state Attorney General Letitia James said this afternoon in a press conference outside of Manhattan Supreme Court. “Victims of intimate-partner violence, victims of domestic violence have decided not to cooperate or testify against their attackers. Families in need of court assistance have decided to stay away from our courts and defendants have not shown up for appearances. Instead they stand in the shadow of justice, and that, my friends, will not be tolerated in the state of New York.”

Filed with Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, the suit takes aim at a 2018 directive from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that formally reversed longstanding practice of avoiding civil immigration arrests at courthouses.

According to the complaint, ICE courthouse operations in and around New York state courthouses increased by as much 1700% in 2018 compared with 2016.

James said in the press conference this afternoon that any marginal benefits the policy achieves are outweighed by “the deep harm to state judicial proceedings,” a factor that she says the government had a duty to consider under the Administrative Procedure Act.

“In issuing and enforcing the Courthouse Civil Arrest Directive, ICE did not fully consider the costs of its policy, adequately train its agents or officers, or explain why any marginal benefit of targeting civil arrests in or near courthouses outweighed the significant harms that previous policies identified as arising from such arrests,” the complaint states. “ICE also failed to consider how the Directive contravened Congress’s vigorous provision of affirmative immigration relief to parties, including witnesses and victims of crime, that are often conditioned on state court access.”

The suit also alleges that ICE lacked the statutory authority issue a directive for arrests that are protected by existing common-law privilege against civil arrests in and around courthouses.

Alleging violations of the 10th Amendment as well, James notes that states enjoy historic sovereign autonomy to control the operation of their judiciaries and to pursue criminal prosecutions and other law enforcement actions, without interference by the federal government.

For his part, DA Gonzalez noted that a third of his constituents in Brooklyn are foreign-born. “If a subset of our community is afraid to come forward and pursue justice in their courthouses, then our entire system of justice is compromised,” Gonzalez said. “And that’s why for two years now, I’ve been calling on ICE to stop their misguided practice of conducting enforcement actions in our state courthouses and to treat the courthouses as sensitive locations.”

Gonzalez blamed the uptick in immigration raids with having forced his office to either reduce or dismiss various cases, “because immigrant witnesses to afraid to move forward on those cases.”

“For many of my constituents, the courthouse is no longer a place of safety and justice, it’s a trap,” Gonzalez said.

Two years earlier, when the inauguration of President Donald Trump was thought to have caused a surge in anti-immigrant rhetoric, Gonzalez joined James’ predecessor Eric Schneiderman in Brooklyn to publicly urge ICE to stop arrests in New York’s courthouse.

Earlier this year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo expanded Executive Order #170 to prohibit arrests by ICE in state facilities, in addition to prohibiting state agencies from inquiring about immigration status.

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