- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 25, 2019

NEW YORK (AP) - New York’s attorney general joined the Brooklyn district attorney and several immigrant advocates’ groups Wednesday in filing two separate federal lawsuits challenging Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests in New York courthouses.

The plaintiffs said ICE arrests in courthouses have skyrocketed since Republican President Donald Trump took office, disrupting court operations and hampering law enforcement.

“When ICE targets witnesses and victims for arrests, it deters noncitizens and immigrants from assisting in state and local law enforcement efforts or protecting their own rights in court,” Attorney General Letitia James said. “This is a disastrous and dangerous break from previous policy and that’s why we are fighting to force them to end this practice.”

The lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court by James and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez seeks to halt what they said is a two-year pattern of civil immigration arrests by ICE agents in and around New York state courthouses.

“Law enforcement cannot keep people safe without the trust of the communities that we serve,” said Gonzalez, who joined James and immigrant advocates at a news conference. “If victims and witnesses to serious crimes don’t come forward and cooperate then we have no cases and we will not be safe.”

Gonzalez added, “For many of my constituents, the courthouse is no longer a place of safety and justice. It’s a trap. Make no mistake, this undermines the wellbeing of all of us.”

The second lawsuit, filed by the Legal Aid Society and the law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton on behalf of immigrants’-rights advocacy groups and one unnamed immigrant client, seeks a permanent injunction ordering ICE not to make civil immigration arrests without a judicial warrant or to surveil any individual coming to, attending or returning from court.

According to the lawsuit, the unnamed plaintiff is afraid to seek an order of protection against an abusive former partner because he fears being arrested by ICE if he appears in family court. “That person needs an order of protection to protect themselves from an abuser,” said Tina Luongo, chief of the criminal practice of the Legal Aids Society of New York.

Judy Harris Kluger, the executive director of Sanctuary for Families, which provides services for victims of domestic violence, gave another example of a client who lost custody of her daughter to an abusive partner.

“He said if she tried to get her back he would call immigration and have her deported and if she showed up in court he would let ICE know,” Kluger said. “And so therefore she did not go for custody of her daughter.”

Prosecutors from two Massachusetts counties filed a similar lawsuit in April to seeking to block federal agents from making arrests at courthouses of people suspected of being in the country illegally. A judge ruled in favor of the prosecutors in June.

Asked about the New York lawsuits, ICE said in a statement, “ICE’s enforcement activities at courthouses are consistent with longstanding law enforcement practices nationwide. And, courthouse arrests are often necessitated by the unwillingness of jurisdictions to cooperate with ICE in the transfer of custody of aliens from their prisons and jails.”

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