Immigration Law

Judge blocks ICE courthouse arrests in New York, stresses need for 'fully functioning state courts'

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A federal judge ruled Wednesday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests at courthouses in New York are illegal.

In his June 10 opinion, Judge Jed Rakoff of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York barred the federal agency from arresting undocumented immigrants on courthouse premises or grounds and also from arresting anyone required to appear at a courthouse as a party or witness.

The New York Times, CNN, NBC News, Courthouse News Service and reported on the decision.

Rakoff noted the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the judicial system, saying that “recent events confirm the need for freely and fully functioning state courts.”

“But it is one thing for the state courts to try to deal with the impediments brought on by a pandemic and quite another for them to have to grapple with disruptions and intimidations artificially imposed by an agency of the federal government in violation of long-standing privileges and fundamental principles of federalism and of separation of powers,” he continued.

The lawsuit was brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, who argued that the increase of ICE arrests in and around the state’s courthouses were disrupting courts and intimidating parties and witnesses.

They also argued that the ICE policy, which is based on a January 2018 directive from the Trump administration, exceeds its authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Rakoff pointed out in his opinion that courthouse immigration arrests increased from 28 in 2016 to 161 in 2017. There were also 107 courthouse arrests in 2018 and 173 in 2019.

“Plaintiffs here have offered substantial evidence that ICE’s decision to expand its courthouse arrest authority impacted litigants and courts in the state of New York even beyond what the numbers themselves might suggest,” he wrote. “Evidence proffered by the plaintiffs indicates that substantial numbers of noncitizen litigants, even those who were not themselves subject to these actions, now feared any kind of participation in the legal system.”

“Plaintiffs have also submitted substantial evidence indicating that these arrests, in addition to their impact on litigants, undermined the orderly functioning of New York courts themselves,” Rakoff added.

In a statement Wednesday, James said “our victory over the Trump administration’s over-policing policies ensures the important work happening in local courts will continue undeterred without the targeting of immigrants seeking access to our courts.”

A federal judge in Boston also blocked ICE from making civil arrests at state courthouses in Massachusetts in June 2019. It was thought to be the first time a judge enjoined civil courthouse arrests of people who are in the country illegally.

See also:

ABA Journal: “Judge faces obstruction of justice charges; ICE says she helped immigrant evade courthouse arrest”

ABA Journal: “Courthouses should not be used for routine immigration arrests, ABA House says in resolution”

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