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In a blow to ICE, judge greenlights lawsuit challenging arrests at NY courts

December 20, 2019 Associated Press
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A New York judge denied the U.S. government’s request Thursday to toss out a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests in New York courthouses.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said he was rejecting the government’s arguments that suggested the arrests were “none of this Court’s business and second, that even if it is, the common law privilege against courthouse arrests doesn’t apply to ICE.”

The lawsuit — filed in September by Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, state Attorney General Letitia James and several immigrant advocates’ groups — contended that ICE arrests in courthouses have skyrocketed since President Donald Trump took office.

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“I am grateful that the court recognized the merits of this lawsuit and allowed it to proceed,” said Gonzalez. “This policy has a chilling effect in immigrant communities and discourages cooperation with law enforcement — thus jeopardizing public safety.”

A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.

The judge, who heard oral arguments in the case last month, noted that lawyers for New York State said civil arrests in or around the New York state courthouse had risen “by a remarkable 1,700 percent or more” in 2018.

During the first 10 months of 2019, there were 112 reported arrests or sightings of ICE officers at courthouses around the state, according to a report by the Immigrant Defense Project. At least 69 of those arrests and sightings so far this year occurred in New York City.

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

As of the beginning of November, Brooklyn led the city with 23 ICE sightings and arrests in or around courthouses. Queens had the second most at 22. Manhattan had 12, the Bronx had 10 and Staten Island had two. IDP could not immediately confirm how many of these were arrests and how many were sightings.

“Court cannot be expected to function properly if third parties (not least the executive branch of the government) feel free to disrupt the proceedings and intimidate the parties and witnesses by staging arrests for unrelated civil violations in the courthouse, on court properly, or while the witnesses or parties are in transit to or from their court proceedings,” Rakoff wrote.

The judge said more than 500 years ago, the English courts developed a common law privilege against civil arrests on courthouse premises.

“This ancient privilege, incorporated into American law in the early years of our republic by virtually all state and federal courts, has remained largely intact over the centuries,” Rakoff said.

Last month, the judge said he found the federal government’s assertions that its policies regarding courthouse arrests can’t be reviewed by a federal judge to be “unusual and extraordinary.”

New York’s attorney general praised the ruling.

“Our state courts cannot function with ICE attempting to arrest parties, witnesses, and victims who rely on our courts for relief,” James said in a statement. “Today’s ruling ensures we will get our day in court to make the case that ICE’s policies are nothing more than illegal maneuvers that harm our state’s ability to provide justice through the court system.”

Additional reporting by Noah Goldberg.

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