Arresting Illegal Immigrants in Courthouses Violates Their Rights, Say Activists

Immigration Arrest

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?”

Dan Satterberg, a prosecutor in King County, Wash., said he has used the U visa about 300 times to convince woman who are victims of domestic violence to “come forward and to trust us.”

“It’s been a tangible way to show that they can trust us. And now, to hear that people who have been recommended for U visas are nevertheless being threatened with deportation, again, is another example of how the last couple of months have undermined years of trust-building in the community,” he said.

Satterberg said there is a “ripple effect” that results from ICE arresting undocumented immigrants at courthouses.

“There’s so much fear that’s been elevated by this new administration, by their words and their actions, so their convenience is undermining decades of work we have done as local police and prosecutors to convince members of immigrant communities, regardless of what their particular documented status is, that they should trust us,” he said.


“They should call 911. They don’t have to live in abusive relationships. They don’t have to tolerate crime, they deserve the same rights and protection of every other citizen. And that, to me, is a paramount principle of justice and fairness and overshadows the argument that ICE has that a courthouse is a convenient place to make these arrests,” he added.

Activists on the call, moderated by deputy director of America’s Voice Education Fund Lynn Tramonte, were asked how they want ICE to handle situations where they do not need a warrant to arrest an undocumented immigrant.

“Immigrants have the right to contest their removal in a separate immigration deportation system, which does provide due process at least on paper. Immigrants have the right to have the notice to appear served against them – that’s like the complaint that’s filed against them to initiate removal proceedings,” said Lin. “Most immigrants have the right to appear before an immigration judge to present evidence. There is a right to counsel in immigration proceedings but there is not a right to appointed counsel, so most immigrants are left to fend on their own.”

Monica McLaughlin, deputy director of public policy at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said there have been cases where a female undocumented immigrant’s abuser threatens to report them to ICE for deportation.

“This is an incredibly common tactic, and these tactics are bolstered by the current environment in which misinformation abounds and news stories of detained and deported victims play right into the hands of perpetrators,” she said.


Increased enforcement, especially at sensitive locations like schools, churches and courthouses, “means survivors are trying to make decisions and weigh these risks – and they can’t get good information from their perpetrators, we know that,” McLaughlin added. “We really want to make sure that victims have access to safety and justice and programs that provide services for them, know what to be able to tell victims.”


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