Albany, NY – The New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA) has banned Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from arresting anyone inside a New York courthouse without documentation signed by a federal judge.
The policy, which went into effect on April 17, requires agents to present a warrant or order signed by a federal judge to either a New York court attorney or judge prior to making any arrests, the Associated Press reported.
It applies only to the area inside actual courthouses. The judges have no control over federal agents' activity outside such buildings.
"This new rule will truly help protect immigrant New Yorkers from the pervasive and rampant immigration enforcement at courthouses that we have seen on a regular basis since the start of the Trump Administration," Legal Aid Society spokesperson Janet Sabel said.
"In order for our judicial system to function properly, all immigrants — including our clients who have been accused of a crime, parents appearing in family court, and survivors of abuse, among others — must have unimpeded access to courts,” Sabel declared.
Bronx Legal Services Family and Immigration Unit Director Terry Lawson said that the policy change has relieved some fears for the immigrants she serves, AM New York reported.
“We want the courts to be a place where people can go and defend themselves or can go and get custody of their children or get an order of protection or get child support or defend themselves from an eviction and to not feel like at any moment they can be snatched out of the courthouse without any sort of process or warning,” Lawson argued.
"This rule change is a big win for thousands of immigrants and their families across New York State who will no longer be sitting ducks in the courtroom," she added, according to National Public Radio.
ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Executive Associate Director Nathalie Asher blasted the policy change, and warned that the move only decreases the community’s safety.
“The State of New York’s newly-announced court arrest policy to shield removable aliens from arrest imposes obstacles to the enforcement of federal immigration law and singles out one federal agency for disparate treatment,” Asher wrote in a statement to AM New York.
“Ultimately, this policy increases the likelihood that criminal aliens will avoid detection and accountability for their immigration violations at the expense of the safety and security of the general public,” she added.
On Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he would likely sign off on legislation aimed at limiting ICE’s authority in and around courthouses if it is presented to him, the New York Law Journal reported.
The proposed bill, coined the “Protect Our Courts Act,” would also prohibit arrests in the area surrounding court buildings, including parking lots and sidewalks.
Furthermore, the bill would allow immigrants to sue agents and officers found to have violated the law.
“I want to do nothing to cooperate with ICE and the less we can facilitate what they’re doing the better, as far as I’m concerned,” the governor said during a radio interview, according to the New York Law Journal.
“I think they’ve trampled on constitutional rights,” Cuomo added. “So, you have federal supremacy clause but anything we can do short of breaking the law, I would do.”
Democratic State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages introduced the legislation in January.
“[OCA] made it clear that our courthouses are sanctuaries and ICE is unwelcome. Still, there’s more we need to do to protect our immigrant communities,” Hoylman told the New York Law Journal. “The Trump administration’s vicious hostility to immigrants, enforced by ICE, is forcing victims and witnesses into the shadows, undermining trust in our courts, and making us all less safe.”
Hoylman has also introduced the “elder parole” bill, which would allow all New York prison inmates to apply for parole at the age of 55, provided they have served 15 consecutive years in prison, the Associated Press reported.
The legislation would even apply to inmates who were ordered to serve life sentences.