Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials without a judicial warrant may no longer enter New York courthouses in order to observe or arrest immigrants, according to new rules from the chief administrative judge of the New York Unified Court System.
Immigration advocates have pushed for the change for two years, after ICE began aggressively pursuing immigrants for arrest in and around state courts.
Andrew Wachtenheim, supervising attorney with the Immigrant Defense Project, which pushed for change, said the new rules are important not just to make immigrants feel safe, but also to ensure public safety.
"If you are a U.S. citizen who has been a victim of a violent crime and there was an immigrant who was a witness, that person might legitimately be afraid to come to court in order to testify on your behalf," Wachtenheim said.
ICE agents will still be able to make arrests outside of court – even on the sidewalk directly outside – but Wachtenheim said barring them from court buildings will help to lessen the "chilling effect" that the past two years of ICE courthouse arrests have instilled in immigrant population.
"The court itself will be a safe space, as it should be," Wachtenheim said. "And even though this is largely limited to what's happening inside courthouses, its effects will be felt outside as well.”
Nathalie Asher, acting executive associate director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, said in a statement that the policy "singles out one federal agency for disparate treatment."
A bill before the state Legislature called the Protect Our Courts Act aims to bar ICE from courthouse arrests in the immediate vicinity of courthouses as well.