Keeping ICE Out Of NY State Court Houses

There is no doubt that immigration has become a defining issue of the current political moment–more specifically, immigration from Latin and South America. Perhaps less prevalent in the media is the fact that the struggle of undocumented immigrants is by no means isolated to the border between the U.S. and Mexico. In fact, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is actively targeting undocumented immigrants throughout the state of New York, including the Hudson Valley. The Immigrant Defense Project reports a 1700% increase in ICE arrests and attempted arrests across New York state under the Trump administration. This recent surge in ICE activity shows the threat to New York’s undocumented community posed by the agency’s reckless and unjust conduct, as Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed in a letter to the then acting director of ICE, Thomas D. Homan, in April of 2018.

Specifically in the Hudson Valley area, recent incidents illustrate the need for codified restrictions on ICE activity. On April 3, 2019, ICE agents chased a man through Middletown City Hall in an attempted arrest. Based on local reporting, three to five ICE agents approached the man on the second floor of city hall as he was waiting to appeal in city court on an issue unrelated to his immigration status. The ICE agents, dressed in civilian clothes and therefore unrecognizable as federal agents, suspected that the man was undocumented. The man resisted and managed to flee. You can read about more the incident here.

Unfortunately, this is only one of many instances of ICE targeting undocumented people in state courthouses. ICE continues to increase its presence in state courthouses in order to surveil and detain immigrants. According to the Immigrant Defense Project, ICE courthouse operations have increased from 11 in 2016 to 202 in 2018.

Courthouses have become a frequent venue for ICE to target undocumented immigrants. Court dates can give ICE a more concrete idea of when and where a person will most likely be, considering the consequences of not showing up to court. Sending armed, plain clothed ICE agents into state courthouses not only poses a threat to undocumented individuals navigating the court system, but to all other courthouse patrons and employees, as well. The disturbance in Middletown is an especially significant example of this conduct’s dangerous effect. As ICE agents approached the man suspected to be undocumented, general patrons only saw a confrontation between apparent civilians. When the local police were called in response to the “disturbance,” they were also unaware of ICE’s presence, having not been notified of any planned presence by the agency. Under the guise of keeping America safe, ICE resembles a secret police. For ICE to target undocumented residents of the Hudson Valley in public spaces while armed and dressed in civilian clothes threatens the security of our community as a whole.

The ICE Out of Courts Coalition, consisting of over 100 organizations and entities throughout the state of New York, aims to barr ICE from attempting arrests in state courthouses without a judicial warrant or judicial order. (Though ICE agents often attempt to use warrants under the Immigration and Nationality Act as if they are judicial warrants, this is not a legitimate comparison. Judicial warrants are signed by a judge, as activist Bryan MacCormack asserted during a recent encounter with ICE.) On April 17, 2019, the New York State Office of Court Administration announced it was implementing rules in line with the Coalition’s demands. Immigration advocates now aim to codify barring ICE from targeting immigrants in courthouses into law.

This legislative campaign is happening on both the state and local level. In January of 2019, Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages and State Senator Brad Hoylman introduced Bill A.02176 and S.00425, the Protect Our Courts Act. While the bill has yet to be brought to the floor, local resolutions keeping ICE out of courthouses without judicial warrants are being approved by our neighboring communities. On April 16, 2019, the Middletown Common Council passed a law making it illegal for ICE to make civil arrests in court without a court order, also called the Protect Our Courts Act. The Poughkeepsie Common Council has approved the same resolution. Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson is currently lobbying to have eight other communities adopt similar resolutions. These include the cities of Beacon, Newburgh, and Kingston; the county of Ulster; the towns of Woodstock and New Paltz; and the villages of New Paltz and Warwick.

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