Federal immigration police have ramped up the practice of arresting undocumented immigrants in or outside courthouses in at least four states, a stark break from past practice that immigration advocates say will have a "chilling" effect on people's willingness to cooperate with the criminal justice system.
Over the last few weeks, lawyers and prosecutors in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Texas have been alarmed by teams of ICE officers bursting into courtrooms or waiting outside courthouses to arrest immigrants, the Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday. The officers have been emboldened by President Trump's executive order declaring open season on undocumented immigrants.
The four ICE officers who swooped in to arrest attorney Octavio Chaidez's client in Pasadena last month confronted them walking out of a courtroom, asked his name, and showed their badges before dragging his client into federal custody, the Times wrote. In the past, an ICE spokeswoman said its agents avoided making arrests in "sensitive locations," like schools, churches, and hospitals when possible, but that the policy doesn't extend to courthouses.
Chaidez told the Times that he's never seen an immigration officer make an arrest in a courthouse before, even in 15 years of working as a defense attorney in Los Angeles County.
His client was far from alone. Last month, a 24-year-old awaiting a retrial in a misdemeanor assault case–who had just been accepted into the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program–was arrested inside a Phoenix courthouse, his attorney told the newspaper. In late February, Irvin González Torres, an undocumented trans woman, was arrested in a Texas courthouse while seeking a protective order against her abusive ex-boyfriend, who she believes tipped off ICE.
The effects of this are clear. As long as cooperating with law enforcement–or advocating for yourself in open court–is made to feel like painting a target for ICE agents on your back, ties between immigrant communities and the systems presumably intended to protect them will only get more frayed.
After Torres was arrested by an undercover ICE agent–who the Times reported sat right behind her in the courtroom–several women revoked their requests to seek protective orders, with two specifically citing Torres' arrest.
In Denver, city attorney Kristi Bronson said last week that she was forced to drop four prosecutions in domestic abuse cases because the victims, all of whom lack legal status, no longer wanted to testify for fear of being arrested by ICE.
"Victims need to feel comfortable to come forward," Bronson told local news station KUSA TV. "The level of anxiety in the community is very new."