ICE agents attempting to detain and arrest undocumented immigrants at a Brooklyn courthouse were reportedly forced to retreat after they were confronted by members of the media on Thursday.
Scott Hechinger, senior attorney and policy director for the Brooklyn Defender Service, first alerted the public to the presence of the ICE agents outside the Brooklyn Misdemeanor Courthouse at 120 Schermerhorn Street on Thursday morning.
According to Hechinger, three plainclothes officers then entered a courtroom itself.
In a statement to Lawnewz.com, New York State’s Unified Court System’s Director of Public Information Lucian Chalfen claimed that the agent’s presence inside the courthouse was simply to part of a meeting with an assistant district attorney there.
The ICE activity apparently related to agent(s) speaking with an ADA from the Brooklyn DA’s office. No one was removed from the courthouse that we are aware of.
Chalfen later told the site that UCS was “not involved” with any arrests made outside the building, such as the one seen by Hechinger. However, as DNAInfo’s Noah Hurowitz pointed out, it seemed unusual for six ICE agents to turn up simply to talk to an ADA, to say nothing of making an arrest.
“I came here and I saw what I thought were officers lurking, and a couple of unmarked cars double parked,” attorney Nathaniel Damren told DNAInfo. “I didn’t see them grab the guys around the corner on Smith Street, but I saw them walk them to a car on Schermerhorn Street.”
According to Hechinger, it was only after the agents were confronted by members of the media, including reporters from both Slate and Democracy Now, that they left the courthouse.
ICE has not replied to my request for comment.
ICE’s practice of conducting stakeouts in and around courthouses has been criticized by legal professionals across the United States, including Brooklyn’s District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman. In August, the pair issued a joint statement demanding the agency “stop conducting raids in New York courthouses,” as well as “recalibrate their priorities so crime victims and witnesses are not targeted for removal proceedings.”
Despite condemnation of these sorts of courthouse arrests, which critics contend has a chilling effect on the immigrant community’s trust in the legal system, ICE has been defiant in its defense of the practice.
At a public forum held in California this past march, ICE acting director Thomas Homan declared, “If there’s a public safety threat in a courthouse, we’ll continue to arrest in a courthouse.”
It remains unclear what sort of “public safety threat” was allegedly present on Thursday at Brooklyn’s misdemeanor court.
Update, 5:07 PM: Late Thursday afternoon, ICE emailed Splinter the following statement:
ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) deportation officers arrested four individuals Sept. 14 at King’s County Criminal Court in Brooklyn, NY. Each individual is a known gang member or affiliate and has pending criminal charges.
Because sanctuary cities like New York City do not honor ICE detainers, aliens, who often have significant criminal histories, are released onto the street, presenting a potential public safety threat. Courthouse visitors are typically screened upon entry, making arrests inside such facilities far safer for everyone involved.