Advocates this week cheered a new state rule intended to prevent federal immigration agents from making arrests inside courthouses unless they have a judicial warrant.
But U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement wouldn’t say whether it would respect the new policy — and the head of a court officers’ union says his members’ hands will be tied if ICE doesn’t comply.
“It definitely creates a conflict for us, I mean we’re hopeful that ICE will follow it,” Dennis Quirk, president of the New York State Court Officers Association, told THE CITY in a phone interview on Friday. “We’ve said all along, the easiest thing for us is if ICE went and grabbed these people where they’re living rather than grab them at the courthouse.”
Posting to a private court officers Facebook group on Wednesday, Quirk wrote: “Court Building are public buildings and [the Office of Court Administration] has no control of what any Law Enforcement Agency does in public area and Court Officers have no legal grounds to stop any Law Enforcement Officer and we will not interfere.”
Quirk said he does not believe his members have the authority to stop a federal officer in courthouse hallways.
But Lucian Chalfen, an OCA spokesperson, dismissed Quirk’s declaration.
“Union presidents do not set court policy, the Office of Court Administration does, as evidenced by the updated directive we issued on Wednesday,” he wrote in an email to THE CITY.
Warrants Required Under New Rule
The new rule requires ICE officers to present warrants or orders signed by a federal judge or magistrate to make an arrest inside a state courthouse. A state court judge or lawyer also would have to review the warrants before ICE makes courthouse arrests, according to the order.
“Arrests by agents of U.S. lmmigration and Customs Enforcement may be executed inside a New York State courthouse only pursuant to a judicial warrant or judicial order authorizing the arrest,” the directive says.
The NYPD already adheres to a similar rule. And OCA said their records show that ICE has shown judicial warrants in the four courthouse arrests it has made in New York City this year.
The requirement “is in line with our standard practice,” Chalfen said.
Meanwhile, federal immigration officials cast doubt on the legality of the policy, even as they avoided saying whether they’d adhere to it.
The order “overlooks the basic point that federal law allows for the arrest of removable aliens based on administrative — rather than judicial — warrants,” Nathalie Asher, ICE’s acting enforcement and removal operations executive associate director, told THE CITY in a written statement.
The Immigrant Defense Project tracked 127 immigration arrests in and around courthouses in New York City last year.
In the Facebook group, called Court Employees Vote Down CSEA Contract, participants railed against the directive.
“This is just one of the many Anti-American laws and rules passed in New York to try to stop President Trump from doing what he promised to do,” wrote one user whose Facebook profile identifies him as a state courts employee.
Quirk told THE CITY that court staff were instructed via a Thursday Skype call to write up incident reports if ICE attempts an unwarranted courthouse arrest.
Justice in Disguise
Immigration advocates say that ICE’s presence in courts has made immigrants afraid to appear for required court dates for even minor infractions of the law.
Natalia Aristizabal, co-director of organizing for immigrant rights group Make the Road New York, said she has been fielding an increasing number of calls from community members she coaches to show up.
One man appeared at a hearing — on a minor charge that was later dismissed — in a hat and large glasses out of fear federal agents would recognize him and snatch him, she said.
“He said it was one of the most terrorizing days that he’s ever lived,” she said.
Legal Aid representatives said ICE creates a dangerous environment in courthouses, and argued that court officers should not allow the now-prohibited arrests to occur.
“OCA’s new directive is a product of two years of careful legal vetting and planning, and Dennis Quirk is ill-advised to encourage his members to break the law,” Janet Sabel, CEO and attorney-in-chief of The Legal Aid Society, said in a statement.
“The administrative warrants that ICE has historically used to detain our clients is mere paperwork and a far cry from what due process requires under the Constitution for a legal arrest,” she added.
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