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New York City legal aid lawyers seek to stop ICE arrests at courthouses

Jonathan Blackman, attorney with Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton said he was optimistic that the case would go to trial at this time. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Lawyers representing undocumented immigrants fought in Federal Court Wednesday afternoon to stop Immigration’s Customs and Enforcement officers, (ICE), from making arrests at courthouses that they say is interfering with court cases both here and in other states.

Immigrant rights attorneys went before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District where they are seeking to argue a case entitled, “Doe vs ICE,” to oppose the U.S. Attorney’s office motion to dismiss the case. The lawsuit seeks to stop ICE from making civil immigration arrests without a judicial warrant or court order in and around New York State courthouses.

About a dozen attorneys fighting for immigrant rights emerged from the Federal Courthouse in Foley Square, confident that the case will continue to a trial.

Jonathan Blackman, an attorney with Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton representing plaintiffs in the case, said he was optimistic that the case would go to trial at this time.

“If he is criminal defendant, he’s entitled to go to court. If he is a witness, he needs to be in court. If it’s a civil case, the court shouldn’t be interrupted by having litigants arrested in and around the court — so we are seeking an injunction,” Blackman said. 

He noted that other cases were also winding through other courts, including New York State where State Attorney General Letitia James and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez are seeking an injunction on “different grounds” related to state rights. He said a case in Massachusetts combines two normally opposed parties including the district attorney’s of two counties and the public defenders office.

“They came together to protect the courts from ICE and so we will be back in court for a conference on April 14,” Blackman said, adding that they are now in pre-trial discovery where they are exchanging documents with the government, doing depositions and bringing in witnesses

“The government tried to stay this, but denied it and so we are  proceeding for eventual trial of case,” Blackman said.

Jill Waldman, attorney for the Legal Aid Society said she was also optimistic that the court will side with them.

“We feel that the arguments went very well — the judge understood the arguments and so there was no basis for this to be dismissed and we did establish we had standing with great merit,” Waldman said. “We hope to get a ruling that will keep ICE from terrifying people and allow court access for all people.”

Jill Waldman, attorney for the Legal Aid Society, addresses legal issues at Federal Court. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

“ICE arrests at courthouses intimidate immigrant youth and their caregivers from accessing relief through the legal system which makes our country less safe and less just. The Door is proud to stand in opposition to this destructive policy with our fellow plaintiffs, New York Attorney General Letitia James, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, the Legal Aid Society, and Cleary, Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.” said Mary Gabrielle Apollon Richardson, Managing Attorney, The Door’s Legal Services Center. 

In December, another judge in the Southern District of New York denied ICE’s Motion to Dismiss in a similar lawsuit, New York v. ICE, issuing a 36-page opinion stating the plaintiffs had valid claims that ICE courthouse arrests were unlawful and could have deleterious effects on the criminal justice system.

Since 2017, ICE courthouse arrests have skyrocketed by over 1700% in New York, attorney’s say, leading to a widespread chilling effect on non-citizens’ willingness to initiate and participate in the judicial system. Moreover, ICE enforcement is escalating to unprecedented levels, as agents shot a young man in the face during an arrest in Brooklyn last week. 

Legal Aid attorneys say they are also representing Gaspar Avendano-Hernandez, who arrested last Thursday in Gravesend, Brooklyn in a particularly controversial incident in which his girlfriend’s son Eric Diaz tried to intervene — he punched an ICE officer and was shot in the face in the melee. They could not however, say any more on the pending case against Avendano-Hernandez. ICE officials say he has been “twice removed” and has a prior arrest for assault.

An ICE agent shot a Mexican immigrant in Gravesend and arrested Gaspare Avendano-Hernandez after he fought with ICE agents to get away. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Todd Maisel