Government Officials Directed to Detain Undocumented Immigrants in Courthouses

  • Apr 12 2018

Are detentions and arrests of illegal immigrants at courthouses a good idea?

Amidst the recent brouhaha surrounding immigration, immigrant communities throughout the country are understandably jumpy. Recently, immigration agents have been informed that the new U.S. government policy is to capture and detain undocumented immigrants in federal, state, and local courthouses. The new directive assigns agents specifically to go after those with past criminal convictions, including gang members, as well as those who have re-entered the country illegally after being deported. There is nothing, however, to legally prevent agents from detaining those simply without the proper papers. If you have been detained, arrested, or threatened by immigration officials, or if you have concerns about appearing in court on an unrelated matter and thus putting yourself in danger, it is time to consult with an experienced immigration attorney.

As one might expect, civil rights groups are distressed by the latest directive of the present administration  — another one that targets one of the most vulnerable populations among us. In California, the state with the highest number of immigrants in the country, the “sanctuary cities,” in which local authorities generally do not turn over illegal immigrants to federal officials, are on the side of the objecting civil rights groups.

The Rationale Behind the Directive

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Acting director Thomas Horman, “Courthouse arrests are often necessitated by the unwillingness of jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the transfer of custody of aliens from their prisons and jails.” He further stated that courthouses are safe places to make arrests because those who have entered have been screened for weapons as they enter.

While detention of undocumented immigrants in courthouses also happened under the Obama administration, President Trump has backed a surge — a 156 percent increase in the arrest of undocumented immigrants who did not have a criminal record — compared to the year before. Ironically, arrests of undocumented immigrants with criminal records rose only 38 percent during the same time period.

Important Restrictions on ICE Arrests

Fortunately, the new directive advises agents not to arrest family members or friends accompanying an undocumented person that ICE is targeting. The agents are also not supposed to detain or arrest undocumented immigrants who are appearing as witnesses in a case before the court. Making arrests in family or small claims courts are also considered off-limits.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has put forth a recent petition arguing that the Trump administration has deliberately created “a climate of fear and uncertainty, fomenting panic among immigrant communities. Over the past year, many immigrants have decided to steer clear of courthouses, hospitals, and other public spaces, for fear of arrest and deportation.” Sarah Mehta, an ACLU human rights researcher, also points out that by the time the restrictions on the powers of ICE agents in courthouses were clarified, “a lot of damage” had already been done, disrupting innocent lives.

Continuing Discord About the Directive

California’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, though stating last March that  immigration agents should stay out of the state’s courts, recently responded positively to the new directive, saying that “if followed correctly, this written directive is a good start.” The Immigration Defense Project spokesperson begs to differ, declaring that such immigration enforcement practices “trample the constitutional rights of immigrant communities.” With so many varying opinions about immigration law being bandied about, it is difficult to know where you stand. By consulting with a compassionate immigration attorney who keeps current with every new regulation and is committed to your cause, you give yourself and your family the best chance of a successful outcome of your particular case.

Posted in: Immigration Law