Immigration Law

Legal groups want new rules on ICE arrests at NY courthouses; fearful clients decline legal remedies

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A coalition of legal groups is asking New York court administrators to issue new rules to limit courthouse arrests of immigrants who are in the country illegally.

The call for action issued Thursday comes as a court reform group also sought reforms that would reduce arrests pursued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, the New York Law Journal (sub. req.) reports.

The legal groups said the proliferation of arrests by ICE is deterring people from seeking redress in courts and harming lawyers’ ability to zealously represent their clients. The groups are the Legal Aid Society, New York County Defender Services, Brooklyn Defender Services, the Bronx Defenders and Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem.

During the Obama administration, ICE agents occasionally arrested targets at New York courthouses, but the policy said arrests should only occur in “priority cases” outside of public areas, according to a report by the reform group, the Fund for Modern Courts. As a result, there were no systemic disruptions during the arrests.

The Trump administration, however, prioritized the removal of all immigrants in the country illegally who had any criminal convictions. No longer are courthouse arrests limited to priority cases. After the policy change, immigration arrests increased by 38 percent in a three-month period. “ICE’s activity at courthouses has similarly increased in frequency and scope,” the report says. A press release summarizing the report is here.

The report cites a survey by the Immigrant Defense Project of 225 attorneys and advocates in 31 counties who work with immigrants and their families. The survey found that fear of ICE kept 29 percent of the respondents’ clients from appearing in court, 37 percent from pursuing an order of protection, and 48 percent from seeking custody or visitation rights.

The report recommends that New York courts:

• Require judicial warrants for civil immigration law enforcement actions in state courthouses. Currently, many civil detainer actions are approved by a supervisor rather than a judicial officer.

• Require judges to notify the targets of civil immigration law enforcement actions of the presence of agents who intend to detain them.

• Limit cooperation from court employees in civil immigration actions to supplying citizenship and immigration data. Currently. court personnel are asked to point out the immigration target, and have sometimes restricted the movement of immigrants to aid their apprehension.

• Limit the frequency of appearances requiring a physical presence in court.

See also: “About 100 public defenders protest outside courthouse after ICE arrest; lawyer tells of ‘chaos’”

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