The New York state Office of Court Administration claims not to assist U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in arrests at state courthouses, yet new evidence obtained by Documented proves otherwise.
For the last two years, ICE agents have been regularly visiting courthouses across the state in order to increase their enforcement against immigrants, aiming to arrest the person in question when they are at court for a different matter. Now, documents show that in several instances, New York State Court Officers or clerks aided ICE in the arrests. These reports were filed by court officers after the ICE arrests occurred. Between Feb. 2017 and Aug. 2018, 66 such arrests by ICE agents happened at New York state courthouses, with New York State Court Officers or clerks facilitating the arrests in six cases.
Both prosecutors and public defenders have spoken out against ICE’s courthouse practices, as they say in interferes with the criminal justice system. When ICE takes an immigrant into custody before a case’s resolution, the organization is not legally required to bring the defendant to criminal court for follow-up dates (and they often don’t). Then, in an awful twist in the American justice system, these unresolved charges can be used by ICE lawyers in immigration trials to prevent detainees from being released on bond or parole. Thus, they continue to be unavailable to show up in criminal court to defend themselves. It’s a grim, self-perpetuating cycle.
In April 2017, the Office of Court Administration issued updated policies after DAs and defense attorneys kicked up a ruckus. The new protocol stated that law enforcement officers (aka ICE) are compelled to identify themselves and their intent when entering a courthouse. The judge must also be told if a person involved in a case is the officer’s target and that “[Unified Court System] uniformed personnel remain responsible for ensuring public safety and decorum in the courthouse at all times.” That “public safety” clause has led some court officers to believe they should assist in ICE arrests.
One ray of hope may be the Protect Our Court Act, introduced by Democrat Brad Hoylman in the State Senate and Democrat Michaelle Solages in the New York Assembly. This bill would ban ICE agents from entering courthouses and empower the state attorney general to arrest or sue individuals who violate these rules. As well, the act would make civil arrests without a valid warrant (more on that later) of people in or entering or exiting a state courthouse illegal.
A spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Danny Frost, wrote in a statement:
When fear of deportation prevents victims and witnesses from coming forward, or deters defendants from responsibly attending their court dates, we are all less safe. While we are not able to comment specifically on the two Manhattan cases—because one has been dismissed and sealed, and the other is open and pending—these Reports make clear why New York lawmakers must immediately pass the Protect Our Courts Act.
Hoylman said in an emailed statement to Documented, “The willing sharing of information between ICE officials and court staff in the absence of a judicial warrant is alarming. Our justice system depends on the participation of everyone in our community, regardless of their immigration status.”
Note the use of the term judicial warrant. Dennis Quirk, the president of the New York Supreme Court Officers Association, told Documented that warrants had been provided in all ICE arrests involving court officers. However, Quirk stated he did not know if they were regular judicial warrants or ICE administrative warrants. This is an important distinction, because the latter ICE can issue themselves without a judge signing off and thus are not normally regarded as legally binding. Apparently this doesn’t matter much to Quirk, though, as he told Documented, “We’re not lawyers that determine what kind of a warrant somebody has, if they have a piece of paper that says it’s a warrant, a warrant for somebody, that’s it.”
If that quote doesn’t instill enough despair in you, then know that the state court system is run by New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who isn’t much help either. She has not banned ICE agents from carrying out courthouse arrests because they are public buildings, so she claims it is beyond her authority to bar them entry.
This policy leaves immigrants at risk and has very real consequences. Documented recounted the story of Stanley (name changed to protect his identity), whose arrest was abetted by a court officer:
In mid-March of 2017, a court officer at the Manhattan Criminal Court on Centre Street was approached by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent, Willie Outlaw. Outlaw, who was in plain clothes, asked the court officer to call him when a man named Stanley* appeared for his court date, then gave the officer his business card. Shortly afterward, Stanley arrived.
The court officer then did something that court administration has previously denied its officers have done: He called Outlaw and told him that Stanley had arrived to the court. Stanley’s criminal case was dismissed, but as he left the courthouse Outlaw and two other ICE officers arrested him.
It should also be noted that ICE arrests can prejudice juries. How impartial can a person be when they see a defendant standing trial for an unrelated charge arrested by ICE or flanked by court officers when they return to prove their innocence?
In response to their questions about the report’s details, OCA spokesman Lucian Chalfen told Documented that:
of the four incidents that you reference, two occurred just as we began to track ICE interactions in our courts and before we issued a new policy, in April 2017, specifically brought about by ICE appearances at court buildings. The latter two were simple requests for publicly available information, contained on eCourts, regarding a future court date and whether an individual was on trial.