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Keeping ICE out of NY courts: James and Gonzalez win lawsuit against Trump Administration

June 12, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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The New York State courts are no longer be fertile ground for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents now that Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and NYS Attorney General Letitia James have a permanent injunction to block agents from making civil immigration arrests in courthouses.

“For more than three years, I have been calling on ICE to stop its unconscionable practice of conducting immigration raids in and around our courthouses because they jeopardize public safety,” Gonzalez said. “But the Trump Administration only escalated this unlawful and dangerous tactic, creating a chilling effect in immigrant communities, which discouraged victims and witnesses from reporting crimes and participating in the legal process.”

In 2016, the Trump Administration began targeting local and state courts for immigration arrests, and there was little the local government could do to legally bar federal agents from entering courts. Gonzalez and James to filed a lawsuit against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security, challenging the legality of the government’s expanded policy.

By landing the permanent injunction there is finally a legal mechanism to prevent the pattern in which ICE agents target courts for easy arrests.

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“Our victory over the Trump Administration’s over-policing policies ensures the important work happening in local courts will continue undeterred without the targeting of immigrants seeking access to our courts,” said Attorney General James. “By allowing federal agents to interfere with state and local cases, the Trump Administration endangered the safety of every New Yorker, while targeting immigrants. All New Yorkers — immigrant or not — can sleep better tonight knowing justice can continue to be carried out.”

District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. Photo: Rob Abruzzese/Brooklyn Eagle

James and Gonzalez’s suit was brought in September. The Trump Administration immediately filed a motion to dismiss, but U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff denied the motion.

“Courts 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 property, or while the witnesses or parties are in transit to or from their court proceedings,” Justice Rakoff wrote in his decision at the time.

After hearing oral arguments in May, Justice Rakoff ruled in favor of Gonzalez and James on Wednesday.

According to the Immigration Defense Project, there were a total of 11 ICE arrests in New York courts in 2016, but that number ramped up to 202 by 2018, including 48 in Brooklyn alone.

This led James and Gonzalez to speak out publicly. Chief Judge Janet DiFiore also spoke out against the practice. The Office of Court Administration set guidelines to keep things orderly after fights started to break out in courthouses between immigrants and agents.

The New York State Legislature wants to take this victory even further by passing the Protect Our Courts Act, which would codify a rule to hold ICE accountable if it breaks the injunction.

“Our legal system is based on equity and equal accessibility to justice for all individuals regardless of immigration status. U.S. Judge Jed S. Rakoff’s ruling reaffirms the fact that ICE should not be interfering with our state judicial system,” stated Assemblymember Michaelle Solages. “However, we cannot stop there. The New York State Legislature must codify these protections into law. Enacting the Protect Our Courts Act will prohibit ICE from arresting immigrants outside of our courthouses.”

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