Tuesday, April 25, 2017

US Civil Rights Commission Expresses Concern with ICE Operations at Courthouses


CNN reports that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights yesterday criticized the Trump administration for the way it is arresting undocumented immigrants, saying it could be harmful to "access to justice."  The Chief Justice of California had previously raised this as a serious issue of concern.  The Commission's statement adds to a chorus of local and state officials who have pleaded with the administration to not arrest immigrants at courthouses, an action that advocates say can hurt public safety by making people afraid to cooperate with law enforcement.

In a statement released Monday, the commission asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly "to consider the fair administration of justice when determining how and where they send Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents."   It further states:
"In the last few months, troubling reports have emerged of federal immigration agents following, confronting, and in some instances, arresting undocumented immigrants in state and local courthouses when some of those immigrants were seeking help from authorities and the local justice system. For example, in Texas, ICE agents reportedly arrested a woman just after she obtained a protective order against her alleged abuser. In Colorado, video footage of ICE agents with an administrative arrest warrant waiting in a Denver courthouse was widely circulated. Similar reports have been made about courthouses in California, Washington, Arizona, and Oregon.
Stationing ICE agents in local courthouses instills needless additional fear and anxiety within immigrant communities, discourages interacting with the judicial system, and endangers the safety of entire communities. Courthouses are often the first place individuals interact with local governments. It is the site of resolution for not only criminal matters, where a victim might seek justice when she has been harmed or wronged, but also for resolution of civil matters, including family and custody issues, housing, public benefits, and numerous other aspects integral to an individual’s life. 
The chilling effect on witnesses and victims is already apparent. According to Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson, four women dropped their cases of physical and violent assault for fear of being arrested at the courthouse and subsequently deported. Bronson stated that video footage of ICE officers waiting to make arrests at a Denver courthouse has “resulted in a high degree of fear and anxiety in our immigrant communities, and as a result, we have grave concerns here that they distrust the court system now and that we’re not going to have continued cooperation of victims and witnesses.”


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