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ICE officers are making immigrants afraid to come to court, report finds

April 12, 2019 Noah Goldberg
ICE arrests outside courthouses have spiked 1,700 percent in New York State since 2016. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese

The growing presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers outside New York courthouses is causing more immigrants to miss their court dates for fear of being detained, a new report outlined Friday.

In Brooklyn – which saw the highest number of ICE courthouse arrests, with 35 in 2018 – ICE’s presence has led not only defendants, but also victims and witnesses to fear coming to court, according to Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.

“The Brooklyn Special Victims Bureau struggled to prosecute a sexual abuse case where the witness, an undocumented mother of the victim, feared cooperation due to ICE in courts,” said the report, which was compiled by the ICE Out of Courts Coalition.

In another case, a Brooklyn victim of a gunpoint robbery refused to testify out of fear of an ICE arrest at court.

Gonzalez has been calling on ICE to stop making courthouse arrests for over a year.

“We now work in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that discourages victims and witnesses, both documented and undocumented, from coming forward to report crimes,” he wrote in an Aug. 2018 op-ed for the Daily News.

“This report documents in painstaking detail the calculated effect of federal interference in our state court system, disrupting our ability as a city to administer justice,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

Bystanders have also spotted ICE agents outside “problem-solving” courts in Brooklyn, including Brooklyn Young Adult Court and Brooklyn Mental Health Treatment Court, the report said.

ICE arrests outside courthouses have spiked 1,700 percent in New York State since 2016, according to a January report by the Immigration Defense Project.

The report also outlined the sharp decline in calls to the Brooklyn DA’s Immigrant Affairs Unit’s hotline since Donald Trump’s election.

In 2016, the hotline peaked at 431 calls. The number of calls plummeted to 132 in 2017 and remained stable in 2018.

Calls to the Nassau County DA’s IAU hotline reflected an even starker trend. In 2017, the number of calls to the hotline dropped from 51 to just three.

“Since Trump took office, our immigrant clients, regardless of status, have increasingly expressed concerns about the risks of coming to court,” said Richard Bailey, supervising attorney at the Brooklyn Defender Services.

“We are certain this fear, which is perpetuated by ICE’s deliberate arrest practices, has a grave and chilling effect on immigrant communities’ willingness to access the courts,” he said.

As recently as Thursday, ICE officers were spotted waiting outside Queens Criminal Court.

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