BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Elected officials, public defenders and advocates gathered at City Hall on Wednesday to call on New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers from conducting unwarranted arrests at courthouses.
Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest)—who is the chairman of the City Council’s Criminal Justice System Committee—joined Council members Francisco Moya (D-East Elmhurst) and Carlos Menchaca (D-Brooklyn), who is the chairman of the council’s Immigration Committee, as well as immigration rights advocates for the rally.
“ICE’s enforcement activity in our courts is frightening victims, litigants, witnesses and defendants away from participating in the peaceful and orderly resolution of civil disputes and criminal charges,” said Lancman. “Our system of justice is being undermined, making all of us less safe, and our society less fair. We must ensure that our justice system is accessible to all, and that begins with getting ICE out of our courts.”
Under state law, courthouses are governed by the judicial branch. Activists have recently increased their calls for DiFiore to take action against immigration-related arrests at city courthouses, which have been on the rise during the past year. According to the Immigrant Defense Project (IDP), the city has seen a 60 percent increase in courthouse arrests. In the first five months of 2018, there have been 52 incidents of courthouse arrests or attempted arrests.
During the rally, Lisa Schreibersdorf, the executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, said that ICE arrests in courthouses are dissuading witnesses and victims of crimes—who do not feel safe to appear in court—to participate in the legal process. She said that without such witnesses’ participation, “the integrity of the whole system is undetermined.”
“ICE’s presence in our courts undermines our ability to represent our clients and safeguard their constitutional rights,” said Tina Luongo, the attorney in charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at the Legal Aid Society. “After detaining our clients through warrantless arrests, ICE has a pattern and practice of failing to produce these individuals for subsequent criminal court hearings. And having an open criminal case prejudices our clients’ ability to seek relief from removal in immigration court.”
Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order prohibiting warrantless arrests in all buildings owned or leased by agencies and authorities under his executive control. However, this does not include courthouses.
DiFiore, who serves as the chief judicial officer for the state and chief judge of the Court of Appeals, would have to establish statewide standards and administrative policies after consulting with the Administrative Board of the Courts and receiving approval from the Court of Appeals. DiFiore would need to implement a policy to prevent ICE from making courthouse arrests.
“ICE does not get to stakeout courtrooms until they find someone to deport,” said Moya. “We urge Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to bar ICE from New York courthouses. Allowing ICE agents to lay in wait is propagating a miscarriage of justice. These people are not bait.”
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.