The chief justice of the Washington state Supreme Court on Wednesday urged the Department of Homeland Security to keep immigration agents away from courthouses, saying it’s “deeply troubling” that lawyers and judges have reported seeing more of them recently.
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst said the agents’ presence could scare people away from courthouses, including domestic violence victims and witnesses in criminal trials.
“When people are afraid to appear for court hearings, out of fear of apprehension by immigration officials, their ability to access justice is compromised,” Fairhurst wrote. “Their absence curtails the capacity of our judges, clerks and court personnel to function effectively.”
Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye of the California Supreme Court sent a similar letter last week. It suggested agents had been “stalking” courthouses and said, “Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws.”
There have been reports of arrests at courthouses in California, Oregon and Texas in recent months as President Donald Trump has called for stricter enforcement of immigration laws.
Rose Richeson, a Seattle-based spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the agency did not have any immediate response to Fairhurst’s letter. But in response to the one from the California justice, it issued a statement saying it weighs many factors when deciding where to make an arrest, including whether authorities have a home or work address for the person they are seeking and what is safest for officers and community
“While ICE does arrest targets at courthouses, generally it’s only after investigating officers have exhausted other options,” the statement said.
Last month, immigration agents in Texas arrested a woman at an El Paso courthouse while she was obtaining a protection order against an alleged abuser. The arrest sparked an outcry from victim’s advocates, saying it would dissuade others from coming forward to report abuse for fear of being deported. Arrests have also been made at courthouses in Oregon and Southern California.
In Washington, lawyers have reported seeing immigration agents at courthouses in Clark, Clallam, Cowlitz, King, Skagit and Mason counties, Fairhurst said. She urged Homeland Security to consider courthouses “sensitive locations,” as it does schools, hospitals and places of worship. Under ICE policy, immigration busts are generally avoided at such places, absent prior approval from a supervisor or “exigent circumstances.”