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For 25 years, schools, hospitals and places of worship for federal immigration officers have been virtually banned. Now, a group of dozens of former state and federal judges are asking the US Immigration and Customs Service to include courts in the list of "sensitive places" where their officers usually do not attend.
"Judges simply can not get their work done – and our justice system can not function effectively – if victims, defendants, witnesses, and family members do not feel confident in accessing the courthouse," the judges said Wednesday in a letter to the deputy director Ronald Vitiello. "The ICE's reliance on the arrest of immigrants in courthouses scares clients and prevents them from seeking justice in a courthouse."
The judges cited reports of a significant increase in ICE activity over the last two years. A study by the Immigrant Defense Project found that between 2016 and 2017, arrests and arrests in the state of New York increased by 1,200 percent. In several dozen states, arrests have been documented of children from insecure living conditions and even victims of trafficking.
"We know first-hand that when the courts are effectively doing justice, ensuring public safety and serving their communities, the courthouse must be able to enter court buildings safely and without fear of retaliation," said the judges , "However, for many of ICE's court arrests, courts are where they should stay in court."
In a January memorandum, ICE said it would limit civil immigration measures within courts to specific individuals, such as gang members and criminal convictions, or persons posing national security threats. ICE officers do not target family members of arrest targets unless they try to intervene. Officers "should exercise reasonable judgment in enforcing federal law and make significant efforts not to unnecessarily alert the public," the memo said.
This assurance did not go far enough, the judges wrote. "After nearly two years of ICE courthouse activity, only unequivocal guarantees and safeguards will restore the public's confidence that the courts can certainly pursue justice before the courts of our nation."
In a FAQ on its website, ICE says, "Courthouse" arrests seem more common "because some law enforcement agencies are not as easily cooperating with ICE agents as they used to be." The growing unwillingness of some jurisdictions "Working together with the ICE on the safe and orderly transfer of foreigners to prisons and prisons has required additional arrest in general."