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Ban ICE arrests of immigrants at New York courthouses, advocates say

Sanctuary-city advocates want New York State’s judicial system to consider banning federal immigration agents from making arrests on courthouse property, or at least require immigrant defendants to be told when deportation agents are present in a courtroom.

Rallying Thursday on the New York City Hall steps, a coalition of immigrants’ advocates, Legal Aid lawyers, and Democratic lawmakers said the state court system isn’t doing enough to shield immigrants who are subject to deportation under federal law from being detained when they show up to address separate criminal cases.

“We are inclined to think that OCA [the state Office of Court Administration] has the authority to bar this kind of law-enforcement activity in the courthouse entirely,” said Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens). He added: “The noncooperation with federal authorities is a well-established precedent in this country.”

The issue has taken on urgency for the advocates because of President Donald Trump’s pledge to intensify enforcement against illegal immigration and legal immigrants suspected or convicted of criminal conduct. Since Trump took office, there were at least 19 immigrants arrested on courthouse property in New York City, according to Redmond Haskins, spokesman for the Legal Aid Society. He said that in 2016, there were at least 8 such arrests in the city, and in 2015, at least 11.

The society’s Tina Luongo said the court system would need the cooperation of the court officers’ union, whose boss, Dennis Quirk, instructed members earlier this year to provide “100 percent cooperation” with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, “and disregard any instruction to the contrary.”

“We need the buy-in of court officers. But they are employees of the state, much like every other employee, and if your boss sets a policy, I believe that they would follow it,” Luongo said.

State court spokesman Lucian Chalfen declined to answer questions, but said in a written statement that the court officials have “met with federal officials on a local and national level to convey our concerns and request that they treat courthouses as sensitive locations, similar to schools, hospitals and places of worship.”

“We have alerted Judges that they may indicate to the parties before or during the court appearance that the defendant will be subject to detention by ICE at the conclusion of the proceeding,” the statement said.

Lancman said he’s not sure how far the advocates want to push – the council will be convening a hearing next week – “but we’re going to try to push that envelope as far as we can.”

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