(CN) – A group of former state and federal judges called on federal immigration authorities to stop making arrests at courthouses in a public letter sent Wednesday.
Specifically, the judges called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement to add courthouses to its list of “sensitive locations,” where ICE is prohibited from conducting activities like surveillance, apprehensions, arrests, interviews or searches.
The judges calling for this change include 25 former state supreme court justices and 10 chief justices appointed by Republicans and Democrats.
“We know firsthand that for courts to effectively do justice, ensure public safety, and serve their communities, the public must be able to access courthouses safely and without fear of retribution,” the judges wrote in the letter, which was coordinated in part by the Brennan Center for Justice in New York City.
In the last two years, courthouse immigration arrests have become more frequent.
In 2017, immigration advocates, prosecutors and sitting state chief justices asked the prior ICE director to stop crackdowns at courthouses.
ICE responded by formalizing its courthouse arrests policy for the first time, pledging to limit them in some circumstances, but making clear such apprehensions would continue. At least 23 states have seen courthouse immigration arrests since 2017.
“Following nearly two years of high-profile ICE courthouse activity, only unequivocal guarantees and protections will restore the public’s confidence that it can safely pursue justice in our nation’s courts,” the judges wrote. “We urge you to restore that confidence by adding courthouses to ICE’s list of ‘sensitive locations,’ thereby assuring officers will refrain from courthouse enforcement activities except in exigent circumstances.”
According to the letter, immigration enforcement activity at courthouses has had a chilling effect on immigrants’ willingness to access the court system.
Data from cities in California and Texas also show Latino residents are seeking fewer orders of protection than they have in the past. The trend suggests that in the face of aggressive immigration enforcement, survivors of domestic violence weigh the fear of an abuser against the fear of ICE.
In Brooklyn and Denver, district attorneys acknowledged dropping cases due to witnesses’ fear that cooperating could lead to immigration trouble for them, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
For 25 years, ICE has maintained a “sensitive locations” policy and does not conduct enforcement activities in places such as schools, hospitals, religious institutions and public demonstrations.
“Together, we have presided over thousands of cases in trial and appellate courts. We know that judges simply cannot do their jobs and our justice system cannot function effectively if victims, defendants, witnesses, and family members do not feel secure in accessing the courthouse,” the judges wrote. “We recognize that ICE officers have duties to perform, but this sense of security requires that courts remain open to all and, just as important, that courts appear open to all.”
A representative from the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, did not respond to an emailed request for comment.