Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents – both in uniform and in plain clothes – have recently made arrests inside of courtrooms or courthouses and just outside of court complexes, according to recent reports. ICE has gone so far as to detain an alleged domestic violence victim who showed up to court.1
In response to these recent events, the California chief justice sent a letter to Donald Trump’s administration asking it to stop ICE agents from “stalking” courthouses to detain undocumented immigrants.
“Enforcement policies that include stalking courthouses and arresting undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom pose no risk to public safety, are neither safe nor fair. They not only compromise our core value of fairness but they undermine the judiciary’s ability to provide equal access to justice,” California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said in her letter.
Now, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly have responded to the letter, stating that seeking out and arresting immigrants who come into any California court is exactly their goal.
Trump Administration’s Stance on Arresting Immigrants in Court
In a letter sent to Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Kelly said they will continue to have federal immigration agents make arrests at state courts and public places. Citing U.S. v. Watson, 432 U.S. 411 (1976), the officials stated that the “arrest of persons in a public place based upon probable cause has long been held by the United States Supreme Court as constitutionally permissible.”
Sessions and Kelly made clear that the Trump Administration is intentionally detaining immigrants at courthouses.
“Because courthouse visitors are typically screened upon entry to search for weapons and other contraband, the safety risks for the arresting officers and persons being arrested are substantially decreased,” Sessions and Kelly said in the letter.
Essentially, this means you could face arrest by ICE if you are appearing in court for a traffic ticket or you have been subpoenaed to testify because you are the victim of a crime.
What is the Impact of the Federal Government’s Courthouse Arrests?
So, what will be the impact of this decision by the federal government to randomly enter our state courthouses in an attempt to arrest those who enter the court on entirely legal business? There could be far-reaching consequences that not only affect those who are arrested, but could impact the entire criminal justice system.
Victims of serious crimes may refuse to go to court for fear of being arrested by ICE. That could result in people who are accused of serious crimes such as rape and murder going free because the witnesses will not come to court to testify. In fact, many people may never report the crime in the first place due to fears that interacting with law enforcement could lead to deportation.
Additionally, the court system could lose millions of dollars in court-imposed fines because people who are willing to pay their traffic fines will refuse to come to court to do so for fear of being detained by ICE. People who wish to come to the court to prosecute small claims actions or to defend against them will be unwilling to do so.
The highest ranking judge in our state has made it clear exactly what is going on. President Trump, through Attorney General Sessions, has decided to terrorize and stalk those that are legally using our judicial process. If you plan on going to court for a legal matter, you should first speak to an experienced attorney who can advise you of your legal rights.
Those of us who care about basic human rights and who cherish the right of every person to be able to enter and do business in our nation’s courthouses should be outraged by what our president and attorney general are doing. Shame on them. We must all stand up for individual human rights. We must stand up in support of our court system and in our system of justice.