U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has just released a formal policy on when it will send immigration agents into local, state and federal courthouses in order to make arrests.
Immigration advocacy groups, along with several judges, have condemned the practice of locating and arresting immigrants in courthouses as they go about their important legal business. ICE argues that courthouse immigration raids have become necessary due to an "increasing unwillingness of some jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the safe and orderly transfer of targeted aliens inside their prisons and jails."
This was presumably a jab at sanctuary cities, which refuse to cooperate with some of the current administration's immigration priorities because they make it more difficult for law enforcement to gain the cooperation of the immigrant community.
The new policy is a two-page directive signed by ICE's acting director. It says that the agency will only seek out specific targets at courthouses, including:
- Convicted criminals
- Gang members
- Threats to public safety
- People who have been previously deported or ordered to leave the U.S.
The agency says it won't arrest friends, family members and witnesses who are subject to deportation except in "special circumstances." Those circumstances were not clearly defined.
The policy directive also says that ICE will generally avoid arresting immigrants in the non-criminal areas of courts, such as family and small claims court. That is, unless a supervisor approves of doing so.
Additionally, ICE reaffirmed its policy of avoiding deportation arrests at hospitals, daycares, schools, places of worship, rallies, demonstrations and similar locations. It did not include courthouses on the list.
Courtroom immigration raids were performed under the Obama administration, but seem to have increased under the current administration. Overall, immigration arrests have surged by about 40 percent under Trump and have cast a wider net.
Does the new policy meet with the courts' approval?
Last March, a California Supreme Court justice ordered ICE to stay out of California's courts. She said, "Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country's immigration laws."
That justice was somewhat encouraged by the new policy. "If followed correctly, this written directive is a good start," she said. "It's essential that we protect the integrity of our state court justice system and protect the people who use it."
A human rights researcher with the ACLU said that the new policy is helpful but noted that the fear caused by courthouse targeting has already been spread so it may be too late. Immigrants may simply avoid courts if they believe they could be targeted there.