New York State Attorney General Letitia James and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today filed a lawsuit in Federal Court to Stop the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) from making arrests at state courthouses.
The suit, which names the U. S. Department of Homeland and Security (DHS) as a defendant, is in response to ICE’s 2018 directive that allows for arrests in and around court proceedings.
James argued that the two-year pattern of civil immigration arrests conducted by federal ICE agents in and around courts has caused a major disruption of state court operations. Further targeting witnesses and victims for arrests, ICE deters non-citizens and immigrants from assisting in state and local law enforcement efforts, said James.
According to a New York Daily News report, the Immigrant Defense Project advocacy group counted 11 arrests at or near courthouses by ICE in 2016 and 178 arrests in 2018.
“We argue that ICE 2018 directive violates centuries-old common law privileges against civil arrests in and around courthouses. ICE’s statutory arrest authority does not extend to the areas protected by the privilege of protecting against civil courthouse arrests,” said James.
She continued, “We also contend that ICE’s courthouse civil arrests directive is arbitrary and capricious. Bottom-line, their actions do more harm than good, and in the end it’s something that they’ve failed to contemplate and even take into consideration.”
Additionally, James argued that the directive infringes on state sovereignty in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 10th amendment that historically grants states the sovereign autonomy to control the operation of their judiciary and court system.
“So we are bringing this suit to protect public safety, to end the profound and documented chilling effect of ICE’s indiscriminate arrest of immigrants as they enter, leave, or attend a hearing in a court in NY state,” said James.
Addressing the issue of public safety, Gonzalez said, “If a subset of our community is afraid to come forward and pursue justice in our courthouses, then our entire system of justice is compromised. Make no mistake, this undermines the well-being of all of us. More than a third of Brooklyn residents are foreign born and we need the cooperation of everyone to maintain public safety.”
James and Gonzalez were joined by the Chief Defender of the Legal Aid Society, Tina Longo who also echoed support for the lawsuit.
“In a report for 2018 done by our friends and partners in the Immigration Defence Project, in NY state there was a 1700% increase in the number of ICE enforcement in our state. Those bullying tactics exploited the critical role that our courts play in protecting people who must come to those courts as accused people,” said Longo.