ICE Can’t Block Suit on Massive Tide of Courthouse Arrests

MANHATTAN (CN) – A federal judge skewered the Trump administration Thursday in advancing a lawsuit over the 1,700% increase in civil arrests that New York courthouses have seen as the government flouts a centuries-old tradition of common-law privilege.

“Courts cannot be expected to function properly if third parties (not least the executive branch of the government) feel free to disrupt the proceedings and intimidate the parties and witnesses by staging arrests for unrelated civil violations in the courthouse, on court property, or while the witnesses or parties are in transit to or from their court proceedings,” U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff wrote Thursday.

In seeking to dismiss the suit, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement argued, “first, that it is none of this court’s business and second, that even if it is, the common law privilege against courthouse arrests doesn’t apply to ICE,” Rakoff explained.

Calling both arguments meritless, Rakoff ruled that modern-day immigrants are just as entitled to the privilege against courthouse arrests as the people for whom the standard was made hundreds of years ago by English and American courts.

“According to the facts here alleged, ICE’s Directive undermines this purpose by deterring immigrants from appearing in court, thus denying them an opportunity to seek justice in their own cases and impeding civil suits and criminal prosecutions by dissuading them from serving as witnesses,” Rakoff wrote.

Rakoff also highlighted how courthouse arrests have hurt the judicial system.

“It has caused precisely the delays, reschedulings, waste, and disruptions that so many earlier courts feared,” he wrote. “This reason, more than any other, compels the court to find that, as a matter of New York law, aliens are privileged from immigration arrest while present at courthouses and during their necessary coming and going therefrom.”

Moving the case forward, Rakoff ordered discovery in the case to be completed by Feb. 28, 2020.

While the case here is led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, Washington state brought a federal complaint over the same issue on Tuesday.

James praised the judge’s decision to move the case toward trial.

“Today’s ruling ensures we will get our day in court to make the case that ICE’s policies are nothing more than illegal maneuvers that harm our state’s ability to provide justice through the court system,” she said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

“While the president and his administration continuously look for new ways to intimidate immigrants and punish New York’s sovereign status, we will continue fighting to ensure justice and public safety for all New Yorkers,” James added.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to declined to comment on the decision.

Before ICE promulgated its directive on courthouse arrests immediately after President Donald Trump took office, there were just 11 arrests in New York courts in 2016. That number rose to 172 in 2017, then 202 in 2018.

“Although the directive purports only to offer guidance on how ICE officers should exercise their enforcement discretion on a ‘case-by-case basis,’ plaintiffs infer from the more than 1700 percent increase in such arrests that the directive actually embodies a conscious decision to conduct widespread immigration arrests in or around state courthouses, a reversal of ICE’s pre-2017 policy to largely abstain from such arrests,” Rakoff wrote.

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