“Courthouses Must Be Viewed as a Safe Forum”

Before Trump, “federal agents never slipped into court to make arrests,” but we’re increasingly seeing federal agents making arrests inside courthouses, according to a recent report from WNYC. This concerned NJ Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, who asked Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly stop arresting immigrants inside courthouses, citing “serious consequences” if immigrants fear that coming to court might lead to deportation.

Rabner’s letter, which can be viewed here, states:

“A true system of justice must have the public’s confidence…. To ensure the effectiveness of our system of justice, courthouses must be viewed as a safe forum.”

Rabner made the case that witnesses, victims and defendants may not show up to testify “[w]hen individuals fear that they will be arrested for a civil immigration violation if they set foot into a courthouse. He added that “serious consequences are likely to follow” from a public safety and community policing standpoint.

Yet, we continue to see these arrests made right here in Middlesex County, where an undocumented immigrant, Miguel Xicotencatl-Toxqui, who was a victim of a crime “found himself handcuffed by sheriff’s officers and turned over to ICE.”

According to this report, ICE did not have a judicial warrant to detain him, even though county policy dictates that such a warrant is required for an ICE arrest at court. Middlesex County’s policy regarding 48-hour civil immigration detainers and warrants, revised recently in light of mounting public pressure, generally states that the county will not comply with 48 hour civil detainer requests from ICE, but with several exceptions. These exceptions cloud what’s permissable and what’s not, thereby leading to confusion among the public and seemingly from public officials.

As a result, we continue to see these arrests made right here in Middlesex County, where an undocumented immigrant, Miguel Xicotencatl-Toxqui, who was a victim of a crime “found himself handcuffed by sheriff’s officers and turned over to ICE.”

According to this report, ICE did not have a judicial warrant to detain him, even though county policy dictates that such a warrant is required for an ICE arrest at court.

As towns try to take steps to protect its undocumented populations, it’s essential for our county’s to have clear, transparent policies so towns can act accordingly. Otherwise, we are simply promoting goodwill.

And our political leaders should not be afraid to act. Promoting and enacting protections for our immigrant communities is not taboo, nor is it out of the mainstream, as was recently displayed when gubernatorial candidates flocked to the May 1 Here to Stay rally at Liberty State Park in Jersey City. So, it’s time to act because not only is it a just, moral imperative, but it’s also expected.

 

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