Capitol Alert

Quit stalking immigrants at California courthouses, chief justice tells ICE

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers make arrests in Los Angeles in February. The chief justice of California’s Supreme Court has asked federal authorities to desist from arresting suspected illegal immigrants at courthouses in the state.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers make arrests in Los Angeles in February. The chief justice of California’s Supreme Court has asked federal authorities to desist from arresting suspected illegal immigrants at courthouses in the state. The Associated Press file

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye on Thursday told federal immigration officials to stop “stalking undocumented immigrants” at California courthouses.

Cantil-Sakauye said she was “deeply concerned” that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are apparently seeking out undocumented immigrants for deportation at courthouses and courtrooms from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

“Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws,” she said in a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Thursday. “Enforcement policies that include stalking courthouses and arresting undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom pose no risk to public safety, are neither safe nor fair. They not only compromise our core value of fairness but they undermine the judiciary’s ability to provide equal access to justice. I respectfully request that you refrain from this sort of enforcement in California's courthouses.”

Since January, Cantil-Sakauye has received several reports from lower court judges, private attorneys and Legal Aid lawyers, that U.S. immigration agents are arresting people after court proceedings, said Cathal Conneely, a public information officer for the Judicial Council of California.

Doris Romero, an undocumented immigrant, asked Rep. Tom McClintock about legal options for undocumented people living in the United States to become citizens, during a town hall on March 4, 2017.

“Her colleagues have been saying there have been instances when, during a hearing, there would be agents within the courtroom, then they’d make an arrest and detain someone after a hearing,” Conneely said. “The chief justice is not in any way questioning the right or authority of the U.S. attorney general or the Department of Homeland Security to do what they’re doing, she’s just raising concern with the judicial branch of California that this is taking place within courthouses and courtrooms.”

It is unclear how many undocumented immigrants in California have been detained, whether those arrested are being targeted specifically because of their immigration status or whether they have been deported.

The presence of immigration officers at courthouses, and the perception that people could face deportation when showing up in legal settings, could have a profound impact on public safety, Cantil-Sakauye suggested.

“Our courts are the main point of contact for millions of the most vulnerable Californians in times of anxiety, stress and crises in their lives,” she wrote. “Crime victims, victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, witnesses to crimes who are aiding law enforcement, limited-English speakers, unrepresented litigants and children and families all come to our courts seeking justice and due process of law. As finders of fact, trial courts strive to mitigate fear to ensure fairness and protect legal rights. Our work is critical for ensuring public safety and the efficient administration of justice,” she said.

The statement comes as Cantil-Sakauye is organizing a court “working group” to provide information and legal resources to immigrants, Conneely said. She initiated it on Feb. 1 in response to media reports and direct reports from judges and lawyers that undocumented people are increasingly being targeted by immigration officials, Conneely said.

President Donald Trump on Jan. 25 issued a pair of executive orders calling for construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall, and ramped up law enforcement authority to find undocumented immigrants, then detain and deport them.

“Any judiciary relies on public trust and confidence,” Conneely said. “There is concern that this may be chilling the willingness of Californians to go to court because they’re concerned about what might happen there.”

Steve Grippi, chief deputy district attorney for the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, said he is not aware of any such cases or ICE stalking at the courthouse in Sacramento County, but he said the presence of immigration agents could incite fear in crime victims and witnesses.

“To the extent this is happening, it’s a fair statement that our cases would be negatively impacted … this could be a problem for us,” Grippi said. “For us, the net effect could be that if a person commits a crime against an undocumented person, or if we have witnesses who are undocumented, and they don’t come into court to testify, then we have a violent offender back on the streets.

“Our cases would be virtually impossible to prove,” he said.

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones on Monday March 6, 2017 spoke out against a proposal to make California a "sanctuary state" for undocumented immigrants.