Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, held an immigration forum at Bet El-Maqdis Islamic Center of Bay Ridge, 6206 6th Avenue last night, where he responded to Tuesday’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) court intervention.
On Tuesday, ICE agents apprehended Genaro Rojas Hernandez, 30, outside a Brooklyn courtroom where he was facing a domestic violence case. After the arrest, dozens of attorneys with The Legal Aid Society of NYC and Brooklyn Defender Services gathered outside the Kings County Criminal Court Building, 120 Schermerhorn Street, to protest the ICE intervention.
“Part of the process as a law enforcement official is to come out and condemn the practice,” said Gonzalez to an audience member who questioned the DA about measures he’s taking to address ICE officers arresting suspects in the city’s courthouses.
Reportedly, ICE officers have made 40 arrests inside courthouses across the city. That number includes both defendants making court appearances as well as victims bringing charges to the courthouse.
“We are depriving people of due process who have just been accused of crimes,” said Gonzalez. “These people have not been found guilty of any crimes, they are just accused.”
The borough’s top prosecutor also raised concerns that the victim in Tuesday’s domestic violence case was also stricken of her right to proceed as a witness in the case.
“It’s not just immigrants being deprived of fairness, it’s that our courthouses are becoming places where people can’t seek justice,” said Gonzalez.
As an agency acting on behalf of a federal government, there is no rule legally forbidding ICE from courthouses as they are considered public space. Courthouses are an attractive space to apprehend suspects because occupants are checked for weapons upon entering the building, said Gonzalez.
As ICE continues to have access to court buildings, Gonzalez said the federal government indicated that they would only be exercising court removals when a high value target was in a courthouse.
Gonzalez also said he wants to investigate what is happening on the federal court level because to his knowledge, there are no instances where ICE agents are apprehending defendants in those courts.
According to Gonzalez, state attorney generals throughout the country are organizing to see how they can bring a federal lawsuit to end this practice. The DA said he plans to provide documentary evidence to the group showing hoe the ICE busts outside courtrooms impacts the safety of the people in Brooklyn.
“Don’t be mistaken, this is a civil matter I believe, but it’s also a public safety matter. I have called on ICE to treat our courthouses as sensitive locations,” said Gonzalez.
Representatives from Gonzalez’ office were also in attendance to talk about the Right to Know Act and field questions. The DA’s Hate Crime and Immigration Affairs Units were present to inform the mostly Muslim-American audience about their services and to share advice on handling ICE targeting and hate crimes.
A little over a month ago, the Bet El-Maqdis Islamic Center was the subject of an act of vandalism, when a man smashed its video cameras with a hammer. Gonzalez noted the suspect had been apprehended, but he could discuss further the pending case.