New York State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages took a bold step forward to defend immigrants at courthouses by recently introducing the Protect Our Courts Act, which aims to protect immigrants by keeping U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) out of the courts.
Solages, representing a portion of western Nassau County, said when federal agents are detaining immigrants in our courts, it “deters individuals from interacting with the court system, which in turn has a chilling effect on all of our rights, as well as public safety.”
Demonstrating this “chilling effect,” an Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) survey conducted last year determined that legal service providers said three-fourths of their clients feared going to court because of ICE presence. And, 29 percent of their clients even failed to appear, afraid of the threat from ICE agents.
These arrests have prompted a range of backlash including attorneys walking out of courts in protest and the American Bar Association urging Congress to designate courthouses as “sensitive locations.”
“So many of our fellow Long Islanders are impacted from gang and domestic violence, as well as human trafficking. Victims should not live in fear, anxiety or apprehension when seeking justice in our court system due to the possibility of being deported by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Unit (ICE),” Solages said.
The IDP found that ICE arrests in courthouses multiplied more than ten times from 11 in 2016 to 139 in 2017, as reported by Reuters. And, in January, ICE issued a policy directive that formalized this practice of arresting immigrants at courthouses.
“I stand with the Immigrant Defense Project, SEIU 32BJ and the New York Immigration Coalition, to convey that our courts must remain a safe place for all New Yorkers regardless of income, race, religion, and especially immigration status,” Solages added.
On Wednesday, New York State Senator Marisol Alcantara also introduced a same-as bill in the Senate.
“New York State should require ICE to get nothing less than a full judicial warrant before they try to use our courts to do their dirty work. I applaud Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages and State Senator Alcantara for introducing this vital bill and urge the Legislature to take action to ensure every New Yorker has equal access to justice,” said Steve Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC).
ICE is infamous for using its own “administrative” warrants to conduct immigration enforcement action without a judge’s sign off. However, if passed, the legislation would require ICE agents to possess an actual judicial warrant or court order to make arrests — including civil ones — in or around courts, the Observer explained.
“It would mean that every New Yorker would be able to access the court system and their right to have their day in court free from fear of being snatched away from their family and separated from their family by ICE and that includes those who are part of a court proceeding, witnesses, victims,” said Anu Joshi, immigration policy director of the NYIC.