Fifty-nine members of Congress, led by Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), are calling on Department of Homeland Security Sec. Jeh Johnson to halt immigration enforcement actions at courthouses.
“We ask that DHS issue new department-wide guidance that ensures that courts–like schools, hospitals, places of worship–are safe places that can be accessed by all people,” the House members wrote in a letter to Johnson Wednesday. “No one should be afraid of going to court to seek essential services and protection from the court.”
In a 2011 policy memo former ICE director John Morton deemed schools, hospitals, institutions of worship, religious ceremony cites, and public demonstrations to be “sensitive locations” where immigration officers must refrain from enforcement unless in exigent circumstances.
According to the congressmen, courthouses should also be on that “sensitive location” list.
“Although the list is intended to be non-exhaustive, ICE has reportedly decided not to extend to courthouses the same protections provided to those locations explicitly identified in the memo. We believe this is a critical error that must be remedied,” the letter reads.
Immigration advocates have been arguing that the enforcement of immigration law at courthouses serves to discourage immigrants, illegal immigrants in particular, from participating in the justice system.
“By deterring people from utilizing court services ICE is creating a culture of fear that undermines public safety and the ability of law enforcement… and the state’s judicial system to carry out essential functions. Moreover, immigration arrests in county and state courts threaten America’s constitutional tradition and promise of equal justice under the law,” the letter charged.
According to Moore the enforcement at courthouses amounts to profiling that must be stopped.
“By targeting courthouses, ICE is exacerbating the culture of fear in our immigrant communities and undermining public safety. Like schools, hospitals, and places of worship, courthouses should be protected from immigration profiling tactics,” she said in a statement.
Johnson is slated to testify before the House Judiciary Committee Thursday. Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI) signed Wednesday’s missive.