PROFESSOR CÉSAR CUAUHTÉMOC GARCÍA HERNÁNDEZ writes in the NY Times:
“At the door of the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse in Denver one Friday in April, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents tackled a man to the ground. A chilling video shows the man — who, according to his lawyer, was there to deal with a traffic ticket — yelling “No!” “My hand!” and “Why?” in Spanish. Sheriff’s deputies order passers-by to stand back, and the violent arrest continues.
The next month, ICE agents returned and arrested another man. His lawyer can be heard in a video of the incident asking the agents if they had a warrant. One responds, “Yes, sir.” The lawyer asks, “Can I see it?”
The agent’s response: “No, sir.”
Both men, according to their lawyers, were taken to immigration detention centers.
This type of arrest is on the rise. Lawyers and judges in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington all reported in the first year of the Trump administration that immigration officials were breaking with tradition to descend upon their courthouses. Such arrests in New York have increased by 900 percent in 2017, according to the Immigrant Defense Project.
This is a deeply worrisome trend because arrests at courthouses don’t just derail the lives of the unsuspecting people who are detained, they threaten the very operation of our judicial system. Such arrests scare people away from the courts, keeping them, for example, from testifying at trials or seeking orders of protection. By using this tactic, the nation’s lead immigration law enforcement agency is undermining a pillar of our democracy.
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Courthouses have a special place in American society. It’s only in a court of law that we can be confident that disputes will be mediated deliberately, and according to a set of rules intended to ensure justice for all parties. As the Supreme Court declared in 1907: “The right to sue and defend in the courts is the alternative of force. In an organized society it is the right conservative of all other rights, and lies at the foundation of orderly government.”
The pursuit of justice depends on getting the parties in the same room. That’s why courts have the power to drag in unwilling participants with subpoenas. They can compel witnesses to testify or risk contempt charges. Courts rely on their hard-earned legitimacy as the rightful locations for resolution of disagreements.
Courthouse arrests by ICE deter not only undocumented immigrants but also people who are here legally but are nervous that they might have somehow compromised their status (or that an officer will think they have). That’s a nuance that is next to impossible for the average person to discern, and those complicated legal questions are exactly what immigration judges spend a lot of energy trying to answer.
. . . .
The harm this causes is bigger than the people whom ICE arrests. United States citizens are not immune to the impact of ICE activity in courthouses. All of us — including those of us who could easily prove our immigration status — depend on courts to do their job, and all of us suffer if the fear of ICE keeps people away.
ICE understands its actions can paralyze important institutions. Longstanding ICE policy discourages questioning or arresting people in schools and churches. It is time to add courthouses to that list. But top administration officials have vigorously defended courthouse arrests.
With no change to federal policy in sight, it is up to cities and states to push back. Elected officials must take seriously their legal obligation to keep courthouses accessible. In addition, the cities and states that own and operate most courthouses and ensure that no one uses their courts in a way that halts judicial business — protesters can’t block the doorway, bail bondsmen aren’t allowed to set up shop in the lobby — should do the same here for immigration agents.
ICE should no longer get free rein to tackle, handcuff and haul away immigrants, sending a message to others that they should think twice before trusting in the courts.