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Advocates call on state lawmakers to outlaw ICE arrests at courthouses

Emma Kreyche with Worker Justice Center of New York speaks at the rally in Albany on Tuesday.
Joseph Celestin, Immigrant Defense Project
Emma Kreyche with Worker Justice Center of New York speaks at the rally in Albany on Tuesday.

Immigration advocates gathered Tuesday in Albany to urge state lawmakers to pass a bill that would prohibit U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from making arrests in and around local and state courthouses. 

Mizue Aizeki with the Immigrant Defense Project says that for the past five years, the organization has been monitoring ICE community arrests in New York state. She says since 2017, there’s been an uptick in courthouse arrests.

“We’re talking about ICE, you know, plainclothes ICE officers being inside courthouses, waiting for people’s names to be called, and getting a positive identification of different people, following people after their court case has been resolved," she says. "And then sometimes arresting someone on their way into court.”

The IDP issued a report this month detailing 127 ICE arrests and 76 sightings of ICE officers in 2019 at a rate that's 1,700 percent higher than in 2016.

According to the IDP, "nearly half of these operations occurred after the New York State Unified Court System issued a directive to limit ICE courthouse arrests practices on April 17, 2019 — in part, requiring ICE to provide a judicial warrant to make an arrest inside a courthouse."

Aizeki says that ICE targets people who come to court for matters like traffic violations or housing disputes, or those seeking judicial protection in domestic violence cases. She says she’s concerned that targeted ICE arrests have become normalized in the past three years.

Emma Kreyche with Worker Justice Center of New York traveled from Rochester to participate in the rally. She says there is a generalized fear among immigrants because people are worried they’ll be targeted by ICE officers.

“That does not help serve the interests of justice. It only allows those who perpetrate crime to remain undetected,” she says.

Aizeki says that the bill would require ICE officers to have a warrant in order to arrest anyone attending or leaving a courthouse. She adds that the bill has majority support in the state Assembly and Senate. 

ICE issued a statement that Congress has granted its officers broad authority to arrest “removable aliens” and may lawfully do so in courthouses.

“ICE officers have been provided broad at-large arrest authority by Congress and may lawfully arrest removable aliens in courthouses, which is often necessitated by local policies that prevent law enforcement from cooperating with ICE efforts to arrange for a safe and orderly transfer of custody in the setting of a state or county prison or jail and put political rhetoric before public safety," Khaalid Walls with Immigration and Customs Enforcement wrote in an email.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.