ICE’s policy empowering officers to arrest illegal immigrants at courthouses is illegal, a federal judge in New York ruled Wednesday, delivering a major symbolic blow to the deportation agency.
Judge Jed S. Rakoff, a Clinton appointee, said the operation of the courts is too important to be hindered by the possibility that a witness or party in a case could be arrested by someone else.
He ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop making civil arrests in and around courthouses in the state, or anyone heading to the courthouse to take part in a case.
New York Attorney General Letitia James called the ruling a “victory over the Trump administration’s over-policing policies,” seemingly tying it to the current debate over policing and race.
“All New Yorkers — immigrant or not — can sleep better tonight knowing justice can continue to be carried out,” Ms. James said.
New York now joins Massachusetts, where a judge ruled ICE couldn’t arrest witnesses or visitors to courthouses. The Trump administration is appealing that decision to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
ICE generally bans arrests at churches, schools and hospitals, but says courthouse arrests should be fair game because they are safe locations. People have to go through security to get into them, so it’s unlikely a target for arrest has a weapon.
Courthouse arrests were allowed, under rare circumstances, during the Obama administration. But after President Trump took office the agency expanded the circumstances, in a 2018 memo.
ICE also says it’s had to turn to courthouse arrests because so many jurisdictions, including New York, refuse to cooperate on releasing people to ICE from their prisons and jails.
ICE said the memo grew out of an executive order Mr. Trump issued just days after he took office. Judge Rakoff rejected that, saying the executive order doesn’t say anything about courthouse arrests.
Ms. James, who joined Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez in the lawsuit against ICE, said they’ve had to cancel important cases and leave potential criminals out on the streets because witnesses were afraid to take part in cases for fear of being arrested by ICE.