Immigration arrests at New York courthouses up 900 percent, advocates say

“The exponential increase in ICE courthouse arrests reflects a dangerous new era in enforcement and immigrant rights violations."

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arresting a man in Los Angeles, CA in May 2017. (CREDIT: Ron Rogers)
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arresting a man in Los Angeles, CA in May 2017. (CREDIT: Ron Rogers)

The number of immigrants arrested or detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency at courthouses in New York has gone up 900 percent in 2017, according to the New York Daily News.

Last year, the advocacy group Immigrant Defense Project documented 11 arrests or attempted arrests in New York. That number went up to 110 this year, mostly in New York City, the publication reported. About 20 percent of individuals detained by ICE did not have prior criminal convictions; 16 percent were there for desk appearance tickets or offenses that didn’t warrant an arrest. Some of the immigrants were arrested in family court and even at the Queens Human Trafficking Court.

“The exponential increase in ICE courthouse arrests reflects a dangerous new era in enforcement and immigrant rights violations,” Immigrant Defense Project attorney Lee Wang told the publication. “Immigrants seeking justice in the criminal, family and civil courts should not have to fear for their freedom when doing so.”

The Office of Court Administration, which is the administrative arm of the court system, said it reported 86 ICE sightings. The discrepancy between the number cited by the Immigrant Defense Project and the court is likely because some arrests could have taken place after the suspect left the courthouse, officials and advocates told the New York Daily News.

The number of immigrants rounded up by the federal immigration agency has increased exponentially since President Donald Trump signed executive orders on immigration to expand the type of criminal offenses punishable by deportation. Deportations are down under the Trump administration compared to his predecessor, but ICE arrests increased 40 percent in his first 100 days in office, according to a previous press release from the ICE agency. Many of the people detained do not have criminal records. Some immigrants are also taken in as “collateral” arrests, or people rounded up for detention on the basis of their immigration status despite ICE’s “targeted” enforcement operations.

The uptick in the number of arrests documented at courthouses stand in sharp contrast to the ICE agency’s “sensitive locations” guideline, which calls on agents to generally avoid arresting immigrants at “sensitive” locations like churches, hospitals, courthouses, and schools, where the presence of agents could disrupt the daily activities in those places. To be clear, immigration agents worked around the policy under the Obama administration. But with Trump in office, the ICE agency has put out a “FAQ” broadly explaining that the rationale behind courthouse arrests are to protect the safety of immigration agents.

Nationwide statistics for courthouse arrests aren’t clear, but anecdotal evidence suggests immigration agents have been detaining people far more frequently at sensitive locations under the Trump administration, including high-profile cases like a domestic violence victim trying to get a protective order in court; a ten-year-old girl with cerebral palsy in a hospital, and parents who traveled with a newborn in need of a serious stomach operation.

ICE arrests are likely going to increase now that the president has nominated Thomas Homan — who was acting ICE director for the past ten months — for a permanent position as the assistant secretary of Homeland Security. Homan has been unapologetic about doubling down on the arrests of all undocumented immigrants. His nomination will be subject to Senate approval.