Tensions between judges and ICE federal agents are on the rise as a result of the growing number of immigration arrests in courthouses, per NPR. Judges are asking that courts be placed on a list of off-limits “sensitive locations” along with schools and places of worship, arguing that the federal agents’ interference is an obstruction of justice. ICE is reluctant to stop, though, as spokespeople say it’s the next safest option for officers.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School organized a letter-signing campaign in support of judges asking ICE agents to stay out of their courts. The AP reports that the letter was signed by about 70 former judges from both sides of the aisle.
The letter to Acting ICE Director Ronald Vitiello reads:
Together, we have presided over thousands of cases in trial and appellate courts. We know that judges simply cannot do their jobs and our justice system cannot function effectively if victims, defendants, witnesses, and family members do not feel secure in accessing the courthouse. We recognize that ICE officers have duties to perform, but this sense of security requires that courts remain open to all and, just as important, that courts appear open to all.
ICE wrote in a January memo regarding the court arrests that it was only targeting gang members and threats to public safety, but research from the letter writers points to different results. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “Persons arrested include defendants facing criminal charges, survivors of domestic violence persons disputing traffic tickets, and parents seeking to protect their children from unsafe living conditions. ICE has arrested people in criminal court, family court, and even a diversion court for victims of human trafficking.”
People seeking justice for heinous crimes are being robbed of their ability to do so. By spontaneously arresting defendants in their trials, ICE agents are abusing their power and kicking the nation’s justice system to the curb, telling them that the fact of how they arrived in the States is more important than any injustice they’ve suffered as a result.
ICE Spokeswoman Liz Johnson defended its undermining of the judicial branch by saying it’s safer for its officers: “Arrests in courthouses are a routine practice for law enforcement agencies throughout the country. Because many jurisdictions no longer allow ICE to take custody of aliens inside of jails, courthouses are the next safest option,” per the AP.
This is an issue that’s been apparent since the Obama administration, but has only (shocker) been on the rise since Trump’s xenophobic administration came into power. According to the logic here, ICE officers’ safety is more important than victims of domestic abuse and human trafficking seeking justice.