ICE Targeting Courts to Arrest Immigrants
March 14, 2019
A recent report published by the Sheller Center for Social Justice at Temple University Law School reveals an alarming trend involving Pennsylvania’s county court system. United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been using the court system to detain undocumented immigrants.
Using anecdotal evidence, the report details how court officials have coordinated with ICE to identify and arrest undocumented immigrants who are appearing in court on unrelated matters.
The report is the first of its kind to detail ICE’s aggressive tactics in and around the courts of Pennsylvania. Temple Law students gathered existing reports of law enforcement collaboration, combined with interviews and data from 56 survey responses.
The report, published in the fall of 2018, documented incidents of court-related arrests in 13 Pennsylvania counties. While Allegheny, Beaver, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Cumberland, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton and Philadelphia counties all reported at least one arrest since 2017, the majority took place in areas closest to Philadelphia.
ICE Using Court Dates, Court Officials
The arrests are occurring when undocumented immigrants appear in court as defendants in criminal matters. The defendants are ordered to stay after their hearing or stopped outside the courthouse, at which time ICE officers take them into custody, regardless of the outcome of their trial. Court staffers report that some judges are asking for defendants’ immigration status in open court if they have names that sound Hispanic.
There are also accounts of probation officers in five of the counties aiding ICE officers. Even immigrants appearing in magisterial district court for minor matters, such as traffic tickets, as well as those visiting family court, are being targeted.
Possible Interference with the Justice System
Residing in the United States illegally is a violation of civil law and is not prosecuted by criminal courts. These court-related arrests undermine both the purpose and the practice of the justice system. The risk of being detained by ICE may discourage immigrants from showing up for court appearances.
In a letter to the Acting ICE Director, close to 70 former judges criticized the arrests, claiming that they interfered with the ability of criminal courts to deliver justice.
ICE officers have been directed by their own agency to avoid these courthouse interactions. Still, a statement from ICE officials say that the courts are a good opportunity to apprehend undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of a crime or pose a risk to public safety.
The authors of the report call for an investigation into ICE’s enforcement tactics, and a limit to information sharing between the courts and ICE.
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