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Recently, reports have been popping up that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have been making arrests inside state courthouses in California, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas. Although ICE claims that courthouse arrests are a last resort, the increased frequency with which they have been made recently belies this position. While there are rather compelling public policy reasons why this shouldn’t be happening, it is, and state court judges unfortunately cannot do much about it.
While judges have more control over what happens inside their actual courtroom, the courthouse, meaning the lobby, hallways, cafeteria, entryway, and other public parts of a courthouse, are fair game for ICE officers to make arrests. In response to the increased efforts, Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, the honorable Tani Cantil-Sakauye, sent a letter to the recently appointed US Attorney General Jeff Sessions requesting that ICE not use the state’s courthouses as bait to enforce immigration laws, as it impacts public safety and the administration of justice. As of yet, there has been no official response from the AG.
Chilling Effect on Justice, Bad for Public Safety
Despite the courts seemingly shutting down every one of the Trump administration’s hard-line policies on immigration, state courts can do little more than criticize. This is due to the fact that states do not have authority to regulate the conduct of federal agencies or federal agents.
The main concern for justices is that ICE’s increased enforcement efforts inside courthouses causes a severe chilling effect on the administration of justice. Significantly, victims of domestic violence, and other crime, as well as witnesses to crimes, who happen to be undocumented immigrants, are fearful that showing up to court will result in their arrest and deportation.
In case some think that this chilling effect is speculative, it absolutely is not. A city prosecutor in Denver is specifically aware of four prosecutions that she has had to drop as a result of witnesses’ fears of arrest by ICE. This means that criminals will not be prosecuted, or convicted, and will be released from custody because witnesses are afraid to come to court.