The chief justice of the California Supreme Court wrote to the attorney general and the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Thursday, expressing concern about reports that immigration agents were “stalking” courthouses in an effort to target undocumented immigrants for arrest.
“As Chief Justice of California responsible for the safe and fair delivery of justice in our state, I am deeply concerned about reports from some of our trial courts that immigration agents appear to be stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote Thursday to Jeff Sessions and John Kelly.
She added: “Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws.”
Virginia Kice, a spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, wrote to TPM in a statement that determinations for where and how to carry out arrests were made on a “case-by-case basis.” But, she said, “[n]ow that many law enforcement agencies no longer honor ICE detainers, these individuals, who often have significant criminal histories, are released onto the street, presenting a potential public safety threat.”
“[B]ecause courthouse visitors are typically screened upon entry to search for weapons and other contraband, the safety risks for the arresting officers and for the arrestee are substantially diminished,” she said, adding later: “In such instances where deportation officers seek to conduct an arrest at a courthouse, every effort is made to take the person into custody in a secure area, out of public view, but this is not always possible.” (Read ICE’s full statement below.)
Peter Carr, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, told TPM via email: “We will review the letter and decline further comment at this time.”
On Wednesday, CBS Los Angeles reported on a client of criminal defense lawyer Octabio Chaidez, who told the network that the man, who was undocumented, was arrested by four ICE agents inside a courthouse after the conclusion of a criminal court appearance.
Chaidez said he had not seen or heard from his client since the arrest, and was concerned that the practice of arresting undocumented people in court for unrelated reasons, as his client was, could discourage them from taking part in the criminal justice system at all.
Cantil-Sakauye shared with Sessions and Kelly that she was “concerned about the impact on public trust and confidence in our state court system if the public feels that our state institutions are being used to facilitate other goals and objectives, no matter how expedient they may be.”
The Los Angeles Times reported Thursday that attorneys and prosecutors had reported similar courthouse arrests in California, Arizona, Texas and Colorado.
In one such case, Irvin (or Ervin) Gonzalez, an undocumented transgender woman, was arrested inside the El Paso County Courthouse shortly after she had received a protective order alleging she was a victim of domestic abuse.
That’s according to El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal. Immigration agents claimed they arrested Gonzalez on the street outside the courthouse. Video obtained by KVIA showed Gonzales being arrested inside the courthouse.
According to ICE’s website, “Courthouses do not fall under ICE or CBP’s policies concerning enforcement actions at or focused on sensitive locations,” which, according to ICE, “should generally be avoided.”
“[E]nforcement policies that include stalking courthouses and arresting undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom pose no risk to public safety, are neither safe nor fair,” Cantil-Sakauye wrote Thursday. “They not only compromise our core value of fairness but they undermine the judiciary’s ability to provide equal access to justice. I respectfully request that you refrain from this sort of enforcement in California’s courthouses.”
ICE Statement on courthouse arrests:
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not comment on correspondence directed to the Secretary, however DHS will respond to the letter as appropriate.
That said, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportation officers carry out enforcement actions every day in locations around the country as part of the agency’s mission to protect public safety, border security, and the integrity of the nation’s immigration system. The determinations about where and how ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) personnel carry out arrests are made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all aspects of the situation, including the prospective target’s criminal history; safety considerations; the viability of the leads on the individual’s whereabouts; and any sensitivities involving the prospective arrest location.
§ While ICE does arrest targets at courthouses, generally it’s only after investigating officers have exhausted other options.
§ It’s important to note that many of the arrest targets ICE has sought out at or near courthouses are foreign nationals who have prior criminal convictions in the U.S. In years past, most of these individuals would have been turned over to ICE by local authorities upon their release from jail based on ICE detainers.
§ When criminal custody transfers occur inside the secure confines of a jail or prison, it’s far safer for everyone involved, including our officers and the person who’s being arrested.
§ Now that many law enforcement agencies no longer honor ICE detainers, these individuals, who often have significant criminal histories, are released onto the street, presenting a potential public safety threat. When ICE Fugitive Operations officers have to go out into the community to proactively locate these criminal aliens, regardless of the precautions they take, it needlessly puts our personnel and potentially innocent bystanders in harm’s way.
§ Moreover, tracking down our priority fugitives is highly resource intensive. It’s not uncommon for our criminal alien targets to utilize multiple aliases and provide authorities with false addresses. Many do not have a stable place of employment
§ Absent a viable address for a residence or place of employment, a courthouse may afford the most likely opportunity to locate a target and take him or her into custody.
§ Additionally, because courthouse visitors are typically screened upon entry to search for weapons and other contraband, the safety risks for the arresting officers and for the arrestee are substantially diminished.
§ In such instances where deportation officers seek to conduct an arrest at a courthouse, every effort is made to take the person into custody in a secure area, out of public view, but this is not always possible.
Western Regional Communications Director/Spokesperson
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)