ABA Urges Congress To Designate Courthouses As “Sensitive Locations”

Three immigrants were targeted and arrested by ICE at the Queens Criminal Courthouse in June. (Public domain photo/Christopher Matthew Thiemann)

The American Bar Association (ABA) urged Congress to add courthouses to the list of sensitive locations where immigration law enforcement is prohibited.

The ABA issued the call after the two-day annual meeting of its House of Delegates on Aug. 14 and 15, comprising a delegation of 601 representatives from bar associations and legal groups around the county.

They specifically asked for the Immigration and Nationality Act to be expanded to change Department of Homeland Security (DHS) guidelines to include courthouses as “sensitive locations” where immigration enforcement cannot take place, with the exception of exceptional circumstances including matters of national security, terrorism, or an imminent risk of violence.

The Protecting Sensitive Locations Act, a bill aimed at making the change, was introduced earlier this year, with both versions currently in committee in the House and Senate.

The plea comes two weeks after New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzales demanded that the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – a law enforcement arm under the DHS – stop preying on crime victims and witnesses who have been targeted at state courthouses.

The ABA made its announcement in “recognition of the critical importance of the fair and unfettered administration of justice and in order to protect the right of all persons to access to federal, state, local, territorial and tribal courthouses.”

The ABA also pointed to one case where an alleged domestic violence defendant walked free after the victim refused to testify when she learned ICE agents were at the courthouse looking for her.

The association also urged ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to adopt the policy independent of a congressional mandate.

In another move supporting immigrants, a separate ABA resolution proposed by its Law Student Division and supported by its Young Lawyers Division encouraged state courts to admit to the bar undocumented law school graduates, provided they are seeking to obtain documented status.