BROOKLYN (CN) – On Thursday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement to end immigration sweeps in and around state courthouses.
Challenging the immigration force emboldened by President Donald Trump’s administration to treat courthouses as “sensitive locations” like it treats schools and churches, the prosecutors argued that courthouse arrests have negative effects on communities that reach beyond the detention of illegal immigrants.
During a press conference Thursday in the 19th floor office of the Brooklyn District Attorney, Gonzalez noted that in the first half of 2017 there had been eight ICE courthouse arrests so far in Brooklyn alone, compared to 11 statewide in all of 2016.
Attorney General Schneiderman estimated that there had been around 60 courthouse ICE arrests in the state of New York so far this year, referencing a five-fold spike statewide.
Gonzalez said that recent ICE sweeps include arrests at family court and in New York’s “problem-solving” courts, including the human-trafficking intervention court.
He said that the ICE arrests do not strictly target undocumented aliens, saying agents also go after witnesses, victims of crime and people charged with low-level offenses appearing in court, which has a chilling effect on immigrants reporting crimes as both witnesses and victims.
Gonzalez said that witnesses and victims of crimes should be ensured justice and that the low-level offenders deserve due process.
“I’m concerned what we’re hearing from our federal enforcement partners that the policies the Trump administration are employing…against violent criminals who are in the country illegally, what we’re seeing on the ground is that the policies are much broader than that,” he said.
From the start of his speech, Schneiderman quickly denounced the “anti-immigrant animus that permeates” President Trump’s administration and policies.
“Evidence should always trump ideology,” Schneiderman declared several times in different variations throughout his speech, saying that courthouse sweeps undermine equal justice for all and that “bad guys know this and take advantage of this.”
Responding to Trump’s Wednesday endorsement of legislation that would curb the level of legal immigration, Schneiderman called it “calculated,” “anti-American and against the spirit of New York,” and said that “hopefully it will not become law.”
“The Trump administration worked overtime to badmouth the immigrant community, to sow division, to turn them into scapegoats,” he said. “Rather than recognize the remarkable contributions of immigrants, the administration has bashed them at every turn.”
Schneiderman said that “short-sided malevolent policies that would interfere with what our law enforcement officers want to do have to be opposed, have to be opposed vocally.”
The attorney general declared his ongoing commitment to “using every tool in our legal and constitutional toolbox to protect New Yorkers from overreach, bad public policies or backsliding from Washington.”
ICE policy dictates that its agents can conduct an enforcement action at a sensitive location if there are exigent circumstances, if other law enforcement actions have led officers to a sensitive location, or with prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official.
ICE’s website has a section devoted to courthouse arrests, which says that “ICE officers and agents are expressly authorized by statute to make arrests of aliens where probable cause exists to believe that such aliens are in violation of immigration laws.”
The website adds that courthouse arrests are advantageous to ICE officers and agents because “absent a viable address for a residence or place of employment, a courthouse may afford the most likely opportunity to locate a target and take him or her into custody.”
ICE suggests that another advantage of courthouse arrests is knowing that targets have already been screened for weapons upon entering the building, which greatly diminishes safety risks for arresting officers.
Lee Wang, staff attorney for the Immigrant Defense Project, described ICE arrests as usually consisting of two to four plainclothes officers who often will not show a warrant or identify themselves to defense attorneys. Wang labeled them “rogue operators” in the public courthouses.
ICE responded to Thursday’s press conference via email, saying that arrests are carried out on a case-by-case basis and that “ICE plans to continue arresting individuals in courthouse environments as necessary, based on operational circumstances.”
“In years past, most of these individuals would have been turned over to ICE by local authorities upon their release from jail based on ICE detainers,” ICE spokeswoman Rachael Yong Yow said. “Now that many sanctuary cities, including New York City, do not honor ICE detainers, these individuals, who often have significant criminal histories, are released onto the street, presenting a potential public safety threat.”
The U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday morning that cities hoping to participate in a federal training program meant to combat violent crime will have to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement requests, the latest in the agency’s attempts to punish so-called sanctuary cities.