The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency must stop conducting “raids” in New York courthouses and targeting crime victims and witnesses for removal proceedings, acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said Thursday.
Instances of arrests and attempted arrests by ICE in courts have spiked approximately fivefold this year compared to 2016, according to a news release issued by Gonzalez and Schneiderman on Thursday. As a result, a growing number of crime victims and witnesses have expressed reluctance to cooperate with authorities due to fear of being deported, they said.
“The federal authorities claim they are making America safe again, but the truth is that their immigration enforcement policies are making all of us less safe,” Gonzalez said in the release. “We see arrests by ICE spiking in our courthouses, including Family Court and courts dedicated to helping human trafficking victims and those with mental health issues.”
Gonzalez said ICE’s current policies under the Trump administration need to stop or “a large number” of New York residents will “live in the shadows” and stop cooperating with law enforcement.
ICE should designate courthouses as “sensitive locations” and not carry out enforcement actions there, which is how it treats “sensitive locations” such as schools, medical facilities and places of worship, Gonzalez said.
Targeting immigrants at courthouses undermines the criminal justice system and also threatens public safety, Schneiderman said in the release.
“Immigrants will be less likely to serve as witnesses or report crimes — and that leaves us all at risk,” he said.
A spokeswoman for ICE said decisions about where and how ICE personnel carry out arrests are made on a “case-by-case basis,” and take into account factors such as the prospective target’s criminal history, safety consideration and “any sensitivities involving the prospective arrest location.”
However, she said, many arrest targets that ICE seeks out at or near courthouses have prior criminal convictions in the U.S., and in the past, most of these targets would’ve been turned over to ICE by local authorities after their release from jail, based on ICE detainers.
“Now that many sanctuary cities, including New York City, do not honor ICE detainers, these individuals, who often have significant criminal histories, are released onto the street, presenting a potential public safety threat,” said Rachael Yong Yow, ICE public affairs officer. “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 inside such a facility are substantially diminished. As such, ICE plans to continue arresting individuals in courthouse environments as necessary, based on operational circumstances.”
Steven Choi, director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said the policies instill fear among people who could have “case-saving information.”
According to the release, a recent survey by the Immigrant Defense Project found there were about 60 arrests and attempted arrests in New York State courts so far this year, with at least eight arrests in Brooklyn. Only 11 arrests were reported statewide in 2016 and 14 in 2015.
As ICE operations have expanded, the agency is arresting individuals in Family Court, Human Trafficking Intervention Court and Mental Health Treatment Court, according to the release. Those arrested included lawful residents who had green cards, a domestic violence victim and people who appeared on low-level misdemeanors, the release said.