Posted on November 10, 2017
When a Day in Court Is a Trap for Immigrants
My latest, about courthouse arrests and access to justice When a Day in Court Is a Trap for Immigrants https://t.co/du6GLv1HHI
— Steve Coll (@SteveCollNY) November 8, 2017
On March 29th, in Pontiac, Michigan, Sergio Perez appeared in a county courtroom to seek sole custody of his son and two daughters, who were between eleven and seventeen years old. The agents arrested Perez right there, transported him to a jail in Dearborn, and then later transferred him to a detention center in Louisiana. McAllister, Perez’s attorney, urged the ICE field office in Michigan to reexamine his case and to stay his deportation, in the interests of his children. Two attorneys from the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, also wrote to ICE, “This practice of obstructing non-citizens’ access to courts endangers public safety and has a chilling effect on families seeking protections from the court.” Their efforts didn’t work. One of the most disturbing aspects of “interior enforcement” of the immigration laws is that the actions can pollute the administration of justice and undermine the rights that the Constitution affords all criminal defendants, whether they are U.S. citizens or not. Immigrant detainees don’t have a constitutional right to a lawyer. Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure don’t always apply when ICE agents investigate a target for arrest. The Immigrant Defense Project, an advocacy group based in New York City, said that it had received reports of eighty-four arrests and attempted arrests in courthouses in New York this year through September, more than six hundred percent more reports than it had received last year. Most often, ICE agents target criminal defendants who may be deportable, but they have also arrested people in New York family court, juvenile court, and specialized courts devoted to the prevention of human trafficking. William Woods, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society in the Bronx, said “Even victims of crime are not going to turn up because of ICE’s presence,” he continued “Court is already a scary place, especially if it’s your first time in the system. You add onto that ‘I might not go back to my family tonight’…It injects something into the criminal-justice system” that was not previously a factor. During the first six months of this year, Latinos in Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco reported fewer cases of domestic violence than during the same period the year before. Advocates believe that the decline reflects less a drop in the crime rate than a rising fear among undocumented victims and witnesses that, if they seek justice, they will be deported.