One of the worst abuses of the Trump immigration roundup has been the sending of ICE agents to courts around the country to arrest immigrants appearing for non-immigration related court hearings. On Wednesday, a group of 70 retired state and federal judges sent a letter to ICE demanding that this dangerous practice be ended.
The letter begins by saying that “for courts to effectively do justice, ensure public safety, and serve their communities, the public must be able to access courthouses safely and without fear of retribution.” These important judicial functions are being undermined, the letter says because “for many…ICE’s courthouse arrests have made courts places to avoid.”
While ICE has sometimes arrested immigrants at courthouses in the past, the letter says “there has been a dramatic increase in ICE presence in courthouses over the last two years.” ICE arrests have been documented in courthouses in 23 states since January 2017. Those arrested have included “survivors of domestic violence, persons disputing traffic tickets, and parents seeking to protect their children from unsafe living conditions.” Arrests have been conducted, says the letter, “in criminal court, family court, and even a diversion court for victims of human trafficking.”
The judges’ letter describes the harm caused by this change in ICE policy:
ICE’s reliance on immigration arrests in courthouses instills fear in clients and deters them from seeking justice in a court building. Affidavits detail persons “terrified” to request orders protecting them from violence or enforcing child support, to serve as witnesses, and to defend themselves. Across the country, this fear has meant valid law enforcement prosecutions are abandoned, or never pursued. Denver’s City Attorney dropped several domestic violence cases when victims declined to cooperate with prosecutors out of fear they would encounter ICE officers. Data from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego shows a disproportionate decrease in the number of domestic violence complaints from Latino communities in 2017, and Houston saw a 16 percent decline in domestic violence reports in 2017 from its growing Hispanic population.
The judges asked that courthouses be classified as “sensitive locations” where ICE would not ordinarily go to make arrests. Without this protection we can expect more immigrants to abandon any faith in the judicial system.