Federal judge rules ICE courthouse arrests in NY state are illegal By Michael Joseph on June 11, 2020

Local officials have long argued the arrests for immigration violations hamper the investigation and prosecution of crime. A federal judge ruled that Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests at courthouses in New York state, which have increased during the Trump administration, are illegal. 

The ruling, from U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the Southern District of New York, came as a win for New York Attorney General who had argued that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE, policy had a chilling effect on the ability of immigrants to participate in the justice system and on the courts’ ability to administer justice. In a 24-page opinion, Rakoff agreed that civil immigration arrests in and around state courthouses made witnesses and partiesfear coming to court and created “temporary chaos” that disrupted court operations, especially in a time of widespread turmoil resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. This ruling accurately supports the notion, which every criminal defense attorney knows, the ICE policy of making an arrest at Courthouses, puts people in an impossible catch 22. If they go to Court to answer for a criminal charge, even of one which they might be innocent, they risk being arrested and put into deportation proceedings. On the other hand, if a person who is undocumented or in a temporary status, does not attend a criminal court date, a warrant will be issued and they will be arrested and likely held in jail while the criminal case proceeds, regardless of whether they are actually innocent and even if the underlying charge has no merit at all. Likewise, even witnesses to crimes who are undocumented, and who have heard the horror stories of someone going to a criminal court and then being deported, are less likely to cooperate with law enforcment or testify for the defense, out of fear of being deported at the court house. 

The officials argued in a lawsuit last September that ICE had exceeded its authority under the Administrative Procedure Act and had adopted its policy in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner. The ruling comes in a case filed in September 2019 that sought to block ICE from conducting civil immigration arrests at the state's courthouses.

For years, local officials, including police chiefs and state prosecutors, have said that immigration enforcement operations inside courthouses have hampered their ability to investigate and prosecute crimes. Immigration advocacy organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union have mounted campaigns to track and end ICE courthouse arrests, arguing they undermine the justice system. It was stated by the filing District Attorney’s that ICE's current courthouse arrest policy, based on a January 2018 directive, exceeded its authority.

The Court declared that ICE’s policy of courthouse arrests, is now embodied in the Directive, to be illegal, contrasting the arrests with the challenges COVID-19 has brought to the court system.  It is one thing for the state courts to try to deal with the impediments brought on by a pandemic, and quite another for them to have to grapple with disruptions and intimidations artificially imposed by an agency of the federal government in violation of long-standing privileges and fundamental principles of federalism and of separation of powers.

It is believed by our New York trial lawyers who fight for immigrants, that it is a victory over the Trump Administration’s over-policing policies which ensures the important work happening in local courts will continue undeterred without the targeting of immigrants seeking access to our courts.


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The Law Office of Michael H. Joseph, PLLC

Law Office of Michael H. Joseph, PLLC

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