Courthouses should be off limits to officials looking to enforce immigration law, amnesty advocates are arguing.
According to a New York Times report the number of activists calling on the Obama administration to deem courthouses a “sensitive location” — where enforcement is discouraged unless there are exigent circumstances — is growing.
Immigrant advocates argue that enforcing immigration law at courthouses prevents and discourages immigrants, particularly illegal immigrants, from participating in the judicial system.
“If they feel like the court is not a safe place where they can go, they may not show up to court,” Nyasa Hickey, an immigration lawyer for an undocumented immigrant detained by immigration officials this month in Brooklyn during a pretrial hearing on a felony charge, told The Times.
In 2011, ICE Director John Morton issued a policy memo deeming schools, hospitals, institutions of worship, religious ceremony cites, and public demonstrations to be “sensitive locations.”
“This policy is designed to ensure that these enforcement actions do not occur at nor are focused on sensitive locations such as schools and churches unless (a) exigent circumstances exist (b) other law enforcement actions have led officers to a sensitive location as described in the “Exceptions to the General Rule”‘ section of this policy memorandum, or (c) prior approval is obtained. This policy supersedes all prior agency policy on this subject,” the memo read, laying out that enfacement actions include arrests, interviews, searches and immigration surveillance.
According to the Times, in March, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials issued new confidential guidelines for agent conduct around courthouses but did not extend Morton’s 2011 policy memo protections to such facilities.
American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Joanne Lin told the Times that at a private meeting in March agency officials told her that the new guidelines only allow agents to enforce immigration law at courthouses against top priority illegal immigrants, or those who have been convicted of serious crimes.
The Times report, however, charges that immigration officials are still carrying out enforcement actions against illegal immigrants that likely are not considered top priority — citing the recent detention of Hickey’s client, a two-time illegal border crosser from Guatemala charged with assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
Lawmakers are reportedly also pressing immigration officials on the matter.
Indeed Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore is currently collecting signatures from colleagues on a letter calling on DHS Sec. Jeh Johnson to stop immigration enforcement actions at courthouses.