Most observers expected a more aggressive approach to immigration enforcement from the Drumpf administration. However, many immigrants and observers have been nevertheless been shocked by some of these tactics. One of the more controversial gambits employed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are courthouse raids on undocumented immigrants. In many instances, the undocumented immigrants are coming to the courthouse for ICE-mandated check-ins or other unrelated proceedings.
While these tactics may be effective in the most direct sense, critics warn that harsh tactics and practices like courthouse raids will result in apparent short-term enforcement success followed by a host of legal and social ills that will complicate the effective administration of justice. In response to administration statements that such tactics would continue, the Chief Justices in two states have urged the Drumpf administration to reconsider.
Drumpf Administration Indicated Courthouse Raids Will Continue in Late March
In late March 2017, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security indicated that the agencies would continue to engage in courthouse raids. These statements of intent were made in response to concerns regarding collateral damage to the justice system. One report from Los Angeles seemed to indicate that domestic violence and similar complaints dropped by roughly one-quarter in immigrant communities. Onlookers believe that this is due to fear regarding potential immigration enforcement actions. Even legal immigrants may be wary of engaging with the police and justice system when perceptions exist that “people like them” are treated harshly or unfairly.
Aside from this evidence that these enforcement tactics are negatively impacting the availability of justice in communities across the nation, the top justices from two influential states have independently expressed their unease with this approach to immigration enforcement.
Chief Justices from New Jersey and California Express Concern Over Courthouse Immigration Arrests
Recently the Chief Justices of the New Jersey and California court systems spoke out against the in-court arrests and raids ICE and DHS have come to rely on under the new administration. In an editorial published in the Washington Post, California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye wrote:
It is my concern for the trust and confidence in our state court system that prompted me last month to ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly not to make immigration arrests at or near courthouses. Our state courts are on the front line of justice in the United States: We handle more than 90 percent of the nation’s case filings each year. I am asking that immigration agents treat courthouses as “sensitive” areas — as they do schools, churches and hospitals.
Here, the Chief Justice merely asks the Justice Department to enforce immigration laws in a way that does not cause the executive branch “act in a way that undermines the trust and confidence of another branch or entity.”
New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner also asked the federal government to cease courthouse raids following two separate arrests at state courthouses in New Jersey. The chief justice’s letter also requests the federal government to include courthouses as a “sensitive location” where raids will not be carried out. The chief justice also notes that fear regarding court proceedings is likely to have a chilling effect on witnesses and interested parties. Defendants in criminal matters may risk fugitive status if they believe an appearance is likely to result in removal.
The chief justice does state that he is not opposed to having state courts and corrections officials coordinate detainer requests regarding defendants held in custody. However, he notes that this type of practice is quite different from a public arrest during a civil court proceeding.
What Should an Immigrant Do Before Making a Court Appearance?
Immigrants and undocumented immigrants who believe that they need to make a mandatory court appearance should seek individualized legal advice from an immigration attorney. Your approach to potential legal proceedings will be guided by the specific facts present in your matter. After reviewing these facts an immigration attorney can assess your likelihood of facing an enforcement action at a courthouse.
In any case, immigrants who fear removal or other harsh treatment can be well-served by creating an emergency binder of essential information and wishes. Information can include whom you wish to watch and make decisions for your children should enforcement action be taken. It may also be wise to gather your children’s documents showing their U.S. citizenship.
If you are an immigrant and are facing questions and anxiety regarding a court appearance, the lawyers of Colombo & Hurd may be able to assist. To schedule a confidential consultation at our Orlando or Tampa law offices, please call 407-478-1111 today.