NY Courts Say They Can’t Keep ICE Out

Council members and immigration attorneys ask Judge Janet DiFiore to prevent ICE from entering courts. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Once again, dozens of New York immigrants, activists, advocates and politicians came together to demonstrate in front of City Hall asking Chief Judge of the State of New York Janet DiFiore t0 use her authority to protect the civil rights of immigrants in light of the arrests that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are carrying out at courthouses.

According to complaints made by the Immigrant Defense Project (IDP), arrests have increased 1,200 percent since 2017, with 52 reported this year alone.

“We must ban the arrest of civilians at any courthouse unless the agents produce a warrant,” said Rory Lancman, chair of the City Council’s Committee on the Justice System. Like the rest of the demonstrators, he asked Judge DiFiore to follow Gov. Cuomo’s recent executive order forbidding making this type of detention in state buildings.

Public Advocate Letitia James also joined the protest against la migra’s actions, which she described as an attack on immigrants and the justice system, and asked DiFiore to protect New Yorkers and institutions.

“It is imperative for our courts to take immediate action and intervene to guarantee that all New Yorkers are safe and that our justice system is not compromised,” said the official. “ICE’s plan to arrest undocumented immigrants at our courts undermines our quest for justice by discouraging victims of crimes and key witnesses from appearing.”

Stanislao Germán, executive director of New York County Defender Services, complained that ICE has overstepped its powers due to the inaction of the court authorities.

“Gov. Cuomo has told la migra that they may not enter a building without a judicial warrant, and all the cases we are seeing have lacked such order. So, with Cuomo’s new order, he is opening the door for the judge to take action,” said the activist. “We are not saying that they do not have a right to go into the courts. We are saying that, in order to make arrests, they need a warrant, and it needs to be done now.”

Still, Chief Judge DiFiore’s office insists that there is nothing she can do to stop immigration agents and that taking action to do so would break the law, which is why she will not change her stance.

Lucian Chalfen, spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, over which Judge DiFiore presides, clarified that Gov. Cuomo’s executive order regarding state buildings “does not apply to the courts of the state of New York.”

“As we have said on several occasions, what advocate organizations and these elected officials are asking us to do – which they know is illegal – is to close a public building to the authorities,” said the official. “We cannot do that and we will not, as there is no state judicial system in this country that forbids the application of laws in courts.”

ICE continues to defend the position expressed in January by Director Thomas Homan, who gave his agents the green light to enter courthouses to detain immigrants through a formal statement in which he warned that ICE will carry out its work inside courts. He also explained that this is not a new policy and that such sites have never been considered sensitive places where the authorities are not allowed to be present, the way schools, churches and hospitals are.

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