Capitol Alert

Sessions says feds arresting immigrants at California courthouses, but aren’t ‘stalking’

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly denied an allegation from California’s Supreme Court chief justice that federal agents are “stalking” illegal immigrants at courthouses, but they did acknowledge going there to arrest them.

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye had expressed concern that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were seeking out undocumented immigrants for deportation at courtrooms, calling the policies that include “stalking courthouses … neither safe nor fair.” The actions, she wrote, “not only compromise our core value of fairness but they undermine the judiciary’s ability to provide equal access to justice.”

Responding to the “stalking” allegation, Sessions and Kelly called the claims “troubling” in a letter this week, and argued that arresting someone in a public place on probable cause has long been allowed by law.

“As you are aware, stalking has a specific legal meaning in American law, which describes criminal activity involving repetitive following or harassment of the victim with the intent to produce fear or harm,” they wrote in a letter this week to Cantil-Sakauye.

Sessions and Kelly also blamed California’s “sanctuary cities,” which limit their cooperation with federal immigration officials, saying the policies force federal agents to find and arrest immigrants in public places, rather than in secure jails, where the risk of injury to the immigrants and officers is reduced.

“Because courthouses are typically screened upon entry to search for weapons and other contraband, the safety risks for the arresting officers and persons being arrested are substantially decreased,” Sessions and Kelly wrote.

The Trump administration officials further instructed the chief justice to instead direct her concerns to California Gov. Jerry Brown.

“We agree with you that the enforcement of out country’s immigration laws is necessary, and that we should strive to ensure public safety and the efficient administration of justice,” they wrote.

“Therefore, we would encourage you to express your concerns to the Governor of California and local officials who have enacted policies that occasionally necessitate ICE officers and agents to make arrests at courthouses and other public places.”

In a statement, Cantil-Sakauye said she appreciated the prompt letter, and the federal government’s admission that agents are in state courthouses making federal arrests.

“However,” she said, “making arrests at courthouses, in my view, undermines public safety because victims and witnesses will fear coming to courthouses to help enforce the law. I am disappointed that despite local and state public safety issues at stake, courthouses are not on ICE's ‘sensitive areas’ list that includes schools, churches, and hospitals.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago