Former judges call for ICE to stop arresting immigrants at courthouses

Nearly 70 former state and federal judges urged U.S. immigration officials to end the practice of arresting immigrants at courthouses.

The former judges, hailing from 23 states, sent a letter Wednesday to acting U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Ronald Vitiello, arguing that arrests at courthouses are instilling fear in immigrants and getting in the way of the criminal justice system, according to the Associated Press.

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The letter is asking for Vitiello to make courthouses a location that is free from immigration enforcement. Places of worship and schools are other “sensitive locations” where ICE cannot arrest someone they think may be an undocumented immigrant.

“We know firsthand that for courts to effectively do justice, ensure public safety, and serve their communities, the public must be able to access courthouses safely and without fear of retribution,” the judges wrote.

The signatories of the letter were judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican governors. The letter was coordinated in part by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

Courthouses have become frequent targets for ICE to apprehend immigrants. ICE says it only targets certain individuals at courthouses, such as gang members or immigrants who have already been ordered to leave. Arrests in courthouses in Sacramento and Fresno, California, sparked outrage from judges and raised the question the legality of the apprehensions.

“Arrests in courthouses are a routine practice for law enforcement agencies throughout the country. Because many jurisdictions no longer allow ICE to take custody of aliens inside of jails, courthouses are the next safest option. As the judges acknowledge in their letter, ICE updated its courthouse policy in coordination with the Association of State Chief Justices and Court Administrators to clarify that the agency targets specific aliens, appearing most often as a defendant in criminal matters, and not those appearing in court as victims or witnesses,” Liz Johnson, spokeswoman for ICE said in a statement to The Hill.

ICE arrests increased in 2018 under President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE, compared with the same period in 2017. Arrests of undocumented immigrants rose 17 percent in the first three fiscal quarters of 2018.

Trump promised during his campaign to impose a hardline stance against illegal immigration, empowering ICE to increase enforcement efforts and arrests.