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Limiting ICE Access in NYS Courts

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers haven’t been banned from entering courts in New York State, and Documented’s Mazin Sidahmed recently reported that 66 arrests by ICE agents in New York State courthouses occurred between February 2017 and August 2018, six of them with the assistance of New York State Court officers or clerks, some of whom had been asked to tip off ICE agents when the individuals were making a criminal court appearance. Documented filed a Freedom of Information Law request for reports filed by court officers after an arrest by ICE agents, and the data comes from those reports.

Now, Documented reports that “New York’s chief administrative judge, Lawrence Marks, told Albany lawmakers Tuesday that the state’s Office of Court Administration is considering steps to limit ICE officers from conducting civil immigration arrests inside courthouses — a practice criminal defense attorneys, their clients and prosecutors around the state have decried.” A “Protect Our Courts” bill was introduced in Albany this month to outlaw civil arrests without a valid warrant of people attending, headed to or coming from, court proceedings in state courthouses. The bill would also bar ICE agents from entering courthouses.

Marks reiterated the position of Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who runs the entire state court system, saying ICE won’t be banned from entering courts in the first place. But he left open the possibility of prohibiting detentions in the absence of a judicial warrant.

ICE officers who intend to make an arrest typically carry ICE administrative warrants, which are legally non-binding warrants issued by an ICE supervisor as opposed to a federal judge. It is very rare for ICE deportation officers to actually obtain a judicial warrant for a detention target, so a policy requiring one would likely prevent most arrests happening now. Lawmakers have also introduced a bill that would attempt to ban ICE from entering courthouses altogether.

The ICE arrests are viewed by both prosecutors and public defenders as a “damaging interference” in the functioning of the criminal justice system, wrote Sidahmed.

When a defendant is taken into immigration custody before their criminal case is resolved, ICE is under no legal obligation to continue producing them in criminal court, and it often doesn’t, gumming up that case and leaving the defendant in legal limbo. Unresolved charges are then sometimes used by ICE attorneys in immigration court to argue against the release of detainees on bond or parole, further impairing immigrants’ ability to prove their innocence and criminal prosecutors’ efforts to secure a conviction.

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