U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a policy directive recently that formalizes its already abhorrent practice of making arrests at courthouses in the ongoing attack on immigrants that will only serve to further drive them down into the shadows.
The agency claims that such arrests are “often necessitated” by jurisdictions’ refusal to cooperate with ICE in handing over custody of undocumented individuals from prisons and jails, which is of course, taking aim at so-called “sanctuary cities.”
The policy designates that ICE will go after the following undocumented targets:
“…specific, targeted aliens with criminal convictions, gang members, national security or public safety threats, aliens who have been ordered removed from the United States but have failed to depart, and aliens who have re-entered the country illegally after being removed…”
The memo also specifies that ICE agents “should generally avoid” enforcement inside courthouses and those areas for non-criminal proceedings like family court and small claims court.
It goes on to state that other undocumented individuals encountered during enforcement, like family and friends, will not be subject to arrest, except in “special circumstances,” including when such individuals are deemed a public safety threat or interfere with ICE.
However, if they will actually adhere to this policy remains to be seen. Regardless, whatever ICE’s policy is on paper, it’s evident from the Trump administration’s wayward application of the law that agents will use their discretion in how they apply the policy at the peril of immigrants.
The Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) found that ICE arrests in courthouses shot up more than ten-fold from 11 in 2016 to 139 in 2017, a stark reminder that the mass deportation agenda is in full swing.
An 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.
Last year, the American Bar Association, with a delegation of 601 representatives from bar associations and legal groups nationwide, called on Congress to designate courthouses as “sensitive locations” where such immigration enforcement would be prohibited.
Even if ICE explicitly says they will not target witnesses or those who have not committed crimes, their agents’ very presence will continue to keep immigrants from courts, forcing more of them underground and making them even more at risk of losing their status. Both victims and witnesses will now be even less likely to come forward to testify at court, which only makes it easier for criminals to slip through the cracks, creating a public safety issue for the community at-large.
The sanctity of the courthouse is now officially voided, since fair and equal protection of the law is becoming a privilege for those who are deemed worthy.