Undocumented immigrants do not feel safe at their churches, dropping off their children at school, or even in their own homes after the surge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests. Now, their fears have been extended to courtrooms — an environment that has been the most recent target of federal agents.
Immigrant rights groups have already cited occurrences of this tactic being used in California, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Texas courthouses.
National Immigration Law Center staff attorney Melissa Keaney explained to Reuters how ICE's presence has become prevalent with president Donald Trump in office. "It's definitely an issue we're seeing a tremendous increase in under the new administration," she said.
Just last month this happened to a client of Octavio Chaidez — a criminal defense lawyer — in a courtroom hall in Pasadena, California, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The frequency of this situation happening has caused attorneys and the supreme court to call the ICE department out on its policy.
The chief justice of California's supreme court, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, asked the Trump administration to stop immigration agents from apprehending undocumented immigrants within the confines of a courthouse.
"I am deeply concerned about reports from some of our trial courts that immigration agents appear to be stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests," she wrote in a letter addressed to attorney general Jeff Sessions and secretary of homeland security John Kelly. "Enforcement policies that include stalking courthouses and arresting undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom pose no risk to public safety, are neither safe nor fair."
The threat of deportation could have a larger impact on the judicial system as a whole.
Undocumented immigrants may now feel discouraged and refrain from showing up to court, participating as a witness, or even getting married. The Los Angeles Times reports incidents of people being detained after going to a court to pay off their tickets or requesting restraining orders.
Similar concerns were raised last month after an undocumented transgender woman was arrested by ICE in El Paso, Texas while seeking a protection order for domestic abuse. El Paso county attorney Jo Anne Bernal told The Washington Post, "It has an incredible chilling effect for all undocumented victims of any crime in our community.”
However, ICE officials continue to stand their ground on the matter, stating that apprehensions at courthouses are done as a last resort.
Agency spokeswoman Virginia Kice noted the surge of ICE agents at courthouses is due to local law enforcement refusing to abide ICE detainer requests. "Now that many law enforcement agencies no longer honor ICE detainers, these individuals, who often have significant criminal histories, are released onto the street, presenting a potential public safety threat," she said.