Raids In NY Courthouses, Including Family And Community Courts, Spiked This Year; Victims And Witnesses Being Targeted Are Increasingly Fearful Of Cooperating With Prosecutors.
New York, NY - August 3, 2017 - New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez today called for the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop conducting raids in New York courthouses and to recalibrate their priorities so crime victims and witnesses are not targeted for removal proceedings. Instances of arrests and attempted arrests by ICE in courts have spiked approximately five-fold this year compared to 2016, according to service providers, and a growing number of victims have expressed reluctance to move forward with criminal prosecutions due to fear of being deported, according to the Brooklyn DA’s Office. These reports are consistent with findings detailed in a national report issued by the New York Attorney General’s office in March. Together, the reports provide overwhelming evidence that the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement policies have undermined public safety and must end.
Attorney General Schneiderman said, “Targeting immigrants at our courthouses undermines our criminal justice system and threatens public safety. If the Trump Administration continues to arrest people in the heart of our justice system, immigrants will be less likely to serve as witnesses or report crimes – and that leaves us all at risk. I join District Attorney Gonzalez in calling for ICE to stop immigration raids in our courthouses. Everyone, regardless of their immigration status or the status of their loved ones, should have access to equal justice under the law.”
Acting District Attorney Gonzalez said, “The federal authorities claim they are making America safe again, but the truth is that their immigration enforcement policies are making all of us less safe. We encounter more and more victims and eyewitnesses to crime who are fearful of moving forward because of immigration status, and we see arrests by ICE spiking in our courthouses, including Family Court and courts dedicated to helping human trafficking victims and those with mental health issues. We must not allow a large number of our residents to live in the shadows and stop cooperating with law enforcement – but the Trump Administration is now creating this dangerous reality. ICE should treat courthouses as sensitive locations, like it does schools and houses of worship, to allow everyone free access to our justice system and stop the chilling effect felt by victims and witnesses.”
Steven Choi, the New York Immigration Coalition’s Executive Director, said, “The federal government continues to perpetuate a false narrative that immigrants are criminals. This does not make us safer – in fact, it instills fear in a community that is now too afraid to come forward with crucial, case-saving information. This is an issue of public safety and I am proud to stand with Acting DA Gonzalez and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to demand the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop making senseless arrests in New York courthouses. This is our New York: one that does not terrorize immigrants at the expense of due process and our democratic principles.”
Mizue Aizeki, the Immigrant Defense Project’s Acting Executive Director, said, “We commend Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and Attorney General Schneiderman for taking a stand to protect the courts from destructive ICE arrests. ICE’s growing presence in the courthouses not only sows fear in immigrant communities, but also undermines equal access to justice. If ICE does not act immediately to stop this practice, the New York State Chief Judge can and should take decisive action to stop ICE from terrorizing immigrants in the courts.”
Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society, said, “We applaud New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez for calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to immediately stop courthouse raids. ICE’s presence in local courts undermines the essential functions of our criminal justice system and deters New Yorkers from seeking vital court protections and services. We hope New York City’s other District Attorneys join with us in our continued efforts to keep ICE from raiding courthouses.”
A recent survey by the Immigrant Defense Project has found that there were approximately 60 arrests and attempted arrests in New York State courts so far this year, with at least eight arrests in Brooklyn. Only 11 arrests were reported statewide in 2016 and 14 in 2015. ICE operations have expanded and the agency is arresting individuals in Family Court, Human Trafficking Intervention Court and Mental Health Treatment Court. Those arrested included lawful residents (Green Card holders), a domestic violence victim and people who appeared on low-level misdemeanors.
While ICE has designated certain locations such as schools, medical facilities and places of worship as “sensitive locations,” where it does not carry out enforcement actions, it has so far refused to designate courthouses as sensitive locations. The result is that a large segment of New Yorkers are now discouraged from appearing in state courts, including in housing disputes, to obtain orders of protection or to settle important matters such as child custody.
In addition, legal professionals, social workers and service providers have reported an increase in victims and witnesses who express reluctance to cooperate with state authorities out of fear of being targeted by ICE. For example, an elderly victim in Brooklyn who was allegedly assaulted by her son is reluctant to move forward with the case because the defendant is a Green Card holder and the complainant does not want to risk seeing him deported. This trend means that crimes will go unreported and criminals may not be held accountable and remain free to victimize others, placing all of us at risk and making us less safe.
Attorney General Schneiderman has been leading the effort to protect New Yorkers from the overreach and backsliding of the Trump administration. He was the first legal officer in the country to offer a legal roadmap for localities to become sanctuary jurisdictions while complying with federal law, and has sued the administration for constitutional violations related to its immigration policies.
Acting DA Gonzalez has been a leader in prosecutors’ work to protect immigrants, creating a policy this spring to offer non-citizens plea offers that avoid collateral immigration consequences, hiring two immigration attorneys to advise his staff and holding monthly Immigration Forums to educate community members about common scams and how to avoid them. On August 8, 2017 The Brooklyn DA’s Office will hold a symposium for legal professionals on the intersection of criminal law and immigration law.
The Attorney General and the Acting District Attorney thanked the New York Immigration Coalition, the Immigrant Defense Project, the Legal Aid Society, Safe Horizon and Sanctuary for Families for their work and advocacy on immigration issues.