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ICE detains immigrant at Brooklyn criminal courthouse, Legal Aid Society says

The arrest sparked an impromptu protest outside the courthouse on Schermerhorn Street Friday afternoon.

 Legal Aid attorneys protest Friday outside of the Brooklyn criminal courthouse at 120 Schmermerhorn St. after an undocumented immigrant was detained by ICE agents at the courthouse. (Credit: AMNY / Alison Fox)

An immigrant was detained by Immigration Customs and Enforcement agents at the Brooklyn criminal courthouse Friday, sparking a protest by attorneys.

The Legal Aid Society's client was detained by ICE around 11:30 a.m. inside the Kings County Criminal Court located at 120 Schermerhorn St. in downtown Brooklyn, a spokesman said.

An ICE spokesman said the Panamanian man who federal agents detained was in the country illegally and was held on immigration violations.

“The man has previous criminal convictions and pending criminal charges,” the spokesman said in an emailed statement.

More than a dozen attorneys with the Legal Aid Society and Brooklyn Defender Services picketed outside the courthouse following the incident.

Legal Aid attorney Rebecca J. Kavanagh tweeted the detainment took place on the eighth floor and was carried out “extremely inconspicuously.” She warned immigrants who were due in court on Friday to contact their lawyers “ASAP.”

“We are appalled by yet another courthouse arrest by ICE. If the people we represent cannot safely appear in court to participate in their own defense — and, further, are sanctioned with warrants for not appearing — then the integrity of the whole system must be questioned,” Legal Aid and Brooklyn Defender Services said in a joint statement Friday afternoon.

“This situation is intolerable. Something must change, and it must change now. Courts must protect all those they hail into their chambers, not feed them into the Trump Administration’s mass detention and deportation machine.”

The organizations are demanding New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and the Office of Court Administration act now to ensure courts are “ICE-free.”

In January, ICE announced new guidelines clarifying how it would conduct arrests within courthouses.

Under the new guidelines, ICE said it would continue to target immigrants who are in the country illegally at courthouses but would avoid arresting their friends and family members unless they pose a threat to public safety or interfere with ICE actions.

ICE officers also are supposed to avoid carrying out enforcement actions in areas that are dedicated to non-criminal proceedings, such as family court — without prior approval from supervisors — and should try to make arrests out of public view.

Immigrant advocates and local officials have become increasingly alarmed about the courthouse arrests since President Donald Trump took office. They say the arrests have the effect of deterring attendance at hearings and discouraging witnesses from testifying about crimes.

In New York, the number of ICE arrests in courthouses jumped to 139 in 2017 from 11 in 2016, according to the Immigrant Defense Project advocacy group. The organization has documented at least 25 courthouse arrests and three attempted arrests in New York City so far in 2018.

Under the current ICE policy, courthouses are not considered to be sensitive locations for arrests. The agency argues that courthouse arrests have become necessary when attempting to apprehend an undocumented immigrant with a criminal history because New York City often refuses to honor ICE detainer requests.

ICE requested 1,023 immigration detainers from the NYPD between October 2016 and September 2017, none of which city officials honored, according to a report from the police department. In comparison, there were only 80 detainers requested between October 2015 and September 2016, the report showed.

Releasing these individuals onto the street after an arrest poses a public safety threat and forces ICE to use more resources in tracking them down, according to the agency. Court appearances provide the “most likely opportunity” to find an individual wanted by ICE and safety risks are minimized due to security screenings at the buildings, ICE argued.

With Reuters and Rajvi Desai

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