NEW YORK — In the latest of the battles between New York Attorney General Letitia James and the Trump administration, a motion was filed to dismiss James’s lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The lawsuit, which was filed along with Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez last month in the Southern District of New York, targeted ICE for making civil immigration arrests in and around state courthouses, alleging the practice disrupts the judiciary system. The Trump administration filed a motion to dismiss the suit Oct. 23, claiming ICE has a long-standing authority to make arrests wherever it sees fit.
“Congress established a comprehensive system of immigration laws which dictates when and where immigration arrests are lawful, including at courthouses,” the motion read.
James’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
ICE implemented a new directive in January 2018 that would allow its officers to make arrests of specific, targeted immigrants in courthouses, if they fall under certain categories, such as having criminal convictions, being gang members of security threats, having stayed in the U.S. despite orders of removal or having re-entered the U.S. illegaly after being removed.
According to the Immigrant Defense Project, from late 2016 to April 2019, there was a 1,736% increase in ICE courthouse enforcement in and around New York courts.
In a statement last month, Gonzalez said immigrant victims and witnesses’ fear of being arrested by ICE because of the agency’s courthouse presence has obstructed many of his criminal cases over the past two years.
“The refusal by ICE to treat courthouses as sensitive locations regularly disrupts court operations, creates a chilling effect in immigrant communities and erodes public safety,” Gonzalez said. “The policy is not only misguided — it exceeds their lawful authority, which is why we are now asking the judiciary to put an end to it.”
But ICE contends there is nothing illegal about making arrests inside or near courthouses, citing that it has been a long-standing practice, and the new directive simply expands and adds detail to what immigrants can be arrested in courthouses and how.
In the lawsuit, James argued that ICE’s practice violates common-law privilege against civil arrests in and around courthouses, and thus violates the Administrative Procedure Act, which established what regulations government entities can implement. But the Trump administration responded that ICE does not need to abide by the APA.
“ICE’s civil arrest enforcement authority derives from the Immigration and National Act, which provides no ‘meaningful standard’ by which this Court can evaluate the appropriateness of ICE’s... directive,” the motion argued. “The INA’s broad language thus grants ICE the discretion to determine the location of a civil enforcement action against an alien present in the United States.”
ICE policy only avoids arrests in what the agency deems to be “sensitive locations,” or sanctuary spaces, such as schools, places of worship and hospitals. In a 2018 resolution, the New York State Bar Association asked ICE to classify courthouses as sensitive locations.
Bryan MacCormack, executive director of the Columbia County Sanctuary Movement, said he’s seen the chilling effect of courthouse arrests among the immigrant community in Columbia County.
“We’ve had cases around domestic violence where people are afraid to go to police and scared to go to court as a witness to testify,” MacCormack said. “It impedes the judicial process.”
Massarah Mikati covers the state Legislature and immigration for Johnson Newspaper Corp. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find her on Twitter @massarahmikati.