Two of New York’s top attorneys have joined together to call for an end to one of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s most controversial tactics: arrests that take place inside courthouses.
In a joint statement released Thursday, Brooklyn’s acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman demanded that ICE “stop conducting raids in New York courthouses and to recalibrate their priorities so crime victims and witnesses are not targeted for removal proceedings.” The call comes after what the pair claim is a five-fold increase in courthouse arrests since 2016.
The moves comes as an array of New York judicial officials have taken to running interference against ICE’s courthouse stakeouts through their own means of subversion. As the New York Times reported in a piece on Friday morning, defense attorneys suspicious of an impending ICE arrest may prompt clients to hide in courthouse bathrooms. Even some judges have taken steps to shield immigrants from ICE’s grasp, sometimes rescheduling trials to avoid courthouse immigration sweeps, or even remanding undocumented defendants to Rikers Island prison where they will be protected from ICE.
While ICE is prohibited from making arrests inside courtrooms themselves, they are allowed to detain suspects in courthouse halls and outside the building. Citing the Immigrant Defense Project, the Times reports that ICE has already made 53 courthouse arrests across New York state since the beginning of 2017, compared to just 11 in 2016.
“The federal authorities claim they are making America safe again, but the truth is that their immigration enforcement policies are making all of us less safe,” Gonzalez explained in his statement. “We encounter more and more victims and eyewitnesses to crime who are fearful of moving forward because of immigration status, and we see arrests by ICE spiking in our courthouses, including Family Court and courts dedicated to helping human trafficking victims and those with mental health issues.”
Courthouse arrests by ICE have become one of the most hotly contested tactics used by the agency, with multiple state and local officials across the country have echoed Gonzalez’s point that the practice serves to dissuade undocumented immigrants from availing themselves to the criminal justice system in instances when they, themselves, have been victimized. ICE, however, has maintained that courthouse arrests are safer, and more easily conducted than door to door stakeouts and detentions.
A spokesperson for ICE told the Times that the new effort to halt courthouse arrests will not affect the agency’s plans moving forward, explaining that “ICE plans to continue arresting individuals in courthouse environments as necessary, based on operational circumstances.”