ICE’s courthouse arrests challenged by NY state, public defenders

New York Attorney General Letitia James, center, is joined by Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, second from right, as she announces the filing of two separate federal lawsuits against Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

AG Letitia James’ office says the raids, which have ensnared 400 immigrants since January 2017, frighten people from showing up to court.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, center, is joined by Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, second from right, as she announces the filing of two separate federal lawsuits against Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, center, is joined by Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, second from right, as she announces the filing of two separate federal lawsuits against Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

Two federal lawsuits were filed against Immigration and Customs Enforcement Wednesday in an attempt to curtail the agency’s arrests in and near state courthouses.

One lawsuit filed by Attorney General Letitia James and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez challenges the legality of making civil immigration arrests without a judicial warrant or court order. A second lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Society and law firm Clearly Gottlieb seeks a permanent injunction to prevent ICE from arresting noncitizen domestic violence survivors who must appear in court for orders of protection.

“Families in need of court assistance have decided to stay away from our courts and defendants have not showed up for court appearances,” said James at a news conference in Foley Square, noting that cases have been abandoned as a result. 

“Instead they stand in the shadow of justice and that, my friends, will not be tolerated in the state of New York,” she said.

Critics of ICE have argued that the fear of arrest is enough to deter witnesses and suspects from showing up to court. The attorney general’s office said about 400 immigrants in New York have been arrested while appearing in state courts since January 2017.

Gonzalez recalled a domestic violence case handled by his office in which a mother discontinued the case because she feared it would draw attention to her and her son’s immigration status.

“For many of my constituents, a courthouse is no longer a place of safety. It’s a trap,” Gonzalez said.

“If victims and witnesses to serious crimes don’t come forward and cooperate, then we have no cases and we will not be safe,” he added.

The state’s Office of Court Administration in April issued a directive preventing ICE officials from arresting people inside state courthouses without a judicial warrant or order. The James-Gonzalez lawsuit seeks to reaffirm protections around courthouses as well.

ICE maintains it is operating within its legal authority when making arrests. It said courthouse arrests take place because jurisdictions fail to comply with the law.

“Courthouse arrests are often necessitated by the unwillingness of jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the transfer of custody of aliens from their prisons and jails,” said Rachael Yong Yow, a spokesperson for the agency.

But Legal Aid argues courthouse arrests hurt the right of due process for the accused.

“The threat of arrest forces immigrant clients of gender violence to make the impossible choice between their safety and the risk of deportation,” said Judy Harris Kluger, the executive director of Sanctuary for Families and a former judge.

“We cannot and must not stand by and allow this miscarriage of justice to continue any longer,” she said.

Andy Mai