California’s Supreme Court chief justice has forcefully called on federal immigration agents to stop looking in California’s courtrooms for people they suspect are living in the country illegally, a move some have criticized as politically motivated.
But state Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said Tuesday she feels it’s her duty to speak out on federal policy that allows Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials to detain people in and around courtrooms, a practice she said has been “in full force.”
“If no one ever speaks out, then we can never be the land of the free and the home of the brave,” Cantil-Sakauye said at a panel discussion hosted by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara.
Since President Donald Trump took office in January, people – those here legally and undocumented immigrants – are less likely to report crimes, to come forward as witnesses to crimes and to seek help if they are victims of crimes, Cantil-Sakauye said. That impedes public safety, infringes the constitutional rights of individuals and their access to justice and has led to a “tide of rising violence,” she said.
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“This is a national concern...that deserves more attention,” she said. “We’re seeing people not coming to court, not reporting to court, not coming for services (and) not coming to testify...this has an effect not only on the immediate case and the safety of communities, but people who live in the communities.”
Cantil-Sakauye first reported an increase in immigration agents in courtrooms across the state in March, when she told them to “stop stalking undocumented immigrants.”
“Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws,” she wrote in a March 16 letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, now the president’s chief of staff. “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.”
Cantil-Sakauye acknowledged Tuesday that she, nor California, has the authority to force immigration authorities to stay away.
Federal Homeland Security and immigration officials say enforcement actions should be deterred at “sensitive locations,” such as schools, places of worship and hospitals. Courthouses are not considered sensitive locations.
In response to her letter, Sessions and Kelly blamed sanctuary city laws that limit cooperation between the federal government and local officials.
“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 in March.