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New York lawmakers pass bill limiting courthouse ICE arrests

July 23, 2020 David Brand
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New York state lawmakers have passed legislation to prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from making courthouse arrests without a judicial warrant.

The measure, known as the Protect Our Courts Act, had the support of immigrants’ rights groups as well as district attorneys in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan. Queens DA Melinda Katz has said she also supports efforts to keep ICE away from the courts.

The prosecutors say the specter of ICE agents in and around courthouses inhibits the justice system by discouraging witnesses and victims from coming forward and visiting court.

At least seven people were arrested inside courthouses, including one in Criminal Court, in 2019, according to the Office of Court Administration.

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A January report by the Immigrant Defense Project identified at least 203 courthouse ICE arrests and sightings statewide in 2019. Queens accounted for the second highest number of any county in the state, with 34; Brooklyn was highest with 38. A pregnant mother from Queens Village was arrested outside Queens Family Court last summer and nearly deported.

At least 32 people were arrested by ICE agents in and around courthouses in Queens in 2018, IDP reported.

“At a moment of national reckoning around law enforcement’s abuse of power and role in society, this historic passage of the Protect Our Courts Act sends a clear message that New York State will not tolerate ICE’s fear-inducing tactics,” said Legal Aid’s top immigration attorney, Hasan Shafiqullah.

State Attorney General Letitia James and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez sued the federal government in September 2019 to prevent ICE activity at courthouses.

James and Gonzalez, along with defense attorneys and immigrants’ rights organizations who filed a separate lawsuit, said the federal law enforcement agency encroaches on state sovereignty by making courthouse arrests unrelated to court matters.

The legislation, which requires Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature, would codify an April 2019 directive from the Office of Court Administration banning ICE agents from making courthouse arrests without a warrant signed by a judge.

“ICE’s malicious practice of arresting people at courthouses strikes at the heart of the due process rights our court system is built to protect,” said New York Civil Liberties Union policy counsel Zachary Ahmad. “Allowing this practice to continue would have a chilling effect that would prohibit people from seeking justice in the courts for reasonable fear of profiling and arrest.”

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