California’s chief justice accused federal immigration agents of “stalking” illegal immigrants at the state’s courthouses, drawing a fierce rebuke this week from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, who said a top judge should know better than to throw around such a loaded term.
The two Trump administration officials said it was “particularly troubling” for Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye to botch the law so badly in using the term “stalking” to imply illegal activity, when in fact the agents were carrying out their sworn duties.
“As you are aware, stalking has a specific legal meaning in American law, which describes criminal activity involving repetitive following or harassment of the victim with the intent to produce fear of harm,” Mr. Sessions and Mr. Kelly chided, adding that agents’ powers to arrest illegal immigrants in public has long been legally established.
The chief justice had fired off a letter accusing the Trump administration of terrorizing illegal immigrants by having the agents track down potential deportees at the state’s courthouses.
Mr. Sessions and Mr. Kelly said the agents were doing nothing illegal, and in fact said it’s safer for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to track down targets at courthouses because the illegal immigrants were likely already screened for weapons when they entered the building.
The two officials said the chief justice should be complaining about California’s sanctuary policies, rather balking at federal agents who are attempting to enforce existing laws.
Immigration officials — including during Obama administration — have long said that sanctuary cities actually make agents’ jobs less safe by shielding illegal immigrants held in prisons and jails, and releasing them back into the community rather than turning them over to federal agents for deportation.
“As a result, ICE officers and agents are required to locate and arrest these aliens in public places, rather than in secure jail facilities where the risk of injury to the public, the alien and the officer is significantly increased because the alien can more readily access a weapon, resist arrest or flee,” Mr. Sessions and Mr. Kelly said.
In their March 29 letter Mr. Sessions and Mr. Kelly ruled out immigration “sweeps,” saying that ICE doesn’t pursue “indiscriminate” arrests.
Agents’ arrest powers are “predicated on investigation and targeting of specific persons who have been identified by ICE and other law enforcement agencies as subject to arrest for violations of federal law,” the two officials said in their stern rebuke.