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Arresting Illegal Immigrants in Courthouses Violates Their Rights, Say Activists

WASHINGTON – Immigrant-rights advocates are calling for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to not enter courthouses to arrest individuals living in the country illegally, arguing that such arrests violate their constitutional rights.

In a joint letter to a California judge last month, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and DHS Secretary John Kelly noted that “some jurisdictions, including the State of California and many of its largest counties and cities, have enacted statutes and ordinances designed to specifically prohibit or hinder ICE from enforcing immigration law by prohibiting communication with ICE, and denying requests by ICE officers and agents to enter prisons and jails to make arrests.”

“As a result, ICE officers and agents are required to locate and arrest these aliens in public places, rather than in secure jail facilities where the risk of injury to the public, the alien, and the officer is significantly increased because the alien can more readily access a weapon, resist arrest, or flee,” they added.

On a conference call last week sponsored by America's Voice Education Fund about the recent actions of ICE officers under the Trump administration, activists were asked to respond to those that think ICE should be able to arrest someone who crossed the border illegally and violated the law.

“The First Amendment and the constitutional protection in the First Amendment extend to everyone in United States, including immigrants… the First Amendment the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances – that does extend to immigrants,” said Joanne Lin, senior immigration policy counsel at ACLU.

“Beyond that, we’re hearing from advocates on the call right now that you can be an undocumented woman who needs to seek a restraining order or who needs to seek child custody, child support,” she added. “The state courts are open to you and they should be open to you and your children in order to protect your lives. So that’s really what’s at stake here. I think it’s also important not to presume that all immigrants arrested at courthouses have no viable way to stay in the United States.”

The America’s Voice Education Fund’s stated mission is to support policy changes that guarantee “full labor, civil and political rights for immigrants and their families.”

Lin said some undocumented immigrants qualify for a special “U visa” as “victims of criminal activity.” According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, “the limit on the number of U visas that may be granted to principal petitioners each year is 10,000.”

“There could be a route to permanent residency” with the U visa, she said. “If ICE does not have a judicial warrant to arrest a particular immigrant, then why are they going to state courthouses and tracking people down, even going into women’s bathroom stalls to arrest them?”