Spanish version (Versión en español): Corte Suprema De Oregon Pide A ICE Que Se Mantenga Alejada De Tribunales

Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Balmer said Thursday that actions by federal immigration officers have been a “strong deterrent” for some individuals trying to access the criminal justice system.

In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Balmer said the presence of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at Oregon courts is having a “chilling effect.” The letter was made public Friday.

“ICE’s detention or arrest of undocumented residents in and near Oregon’s courthouses … deters individuals, some undocumented and some not, from coming to court when they should,” Balmer said.

ICE did not immediately return a request for comment on the letter Friday.

He noted even if someone does have legal status to be in the United States, they may not want to come to an Oregon courthouse.

Balmer said those people “do not want to face the prospect of what they see as hostile questioning based on perceived ethnicity, cases of misidentification, or other intrusive interactions with ICE agents.”

Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Balmer

Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Balmer

Oregon Judicial Department

In the months since President Trump’s inauguration, immigration advocates have said they’ve seen an uptick in the number of arrests ICE agents have conducted at or near courthouses.

Last month, California’s Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, sent a similar letter to Sessions, claiming “immigration agents appear to be stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests.”

Sessions and Kelly replied ICE arrests would continue at courthouses. They said the arrests are necessary because of statutes that prevent local law enforcement from working with ICE.

In January, ICE confirmed to OPB it had made several arrests at courthouses in Multnomah County.

The Multnomah County Courthouse in downtown Portland. ICE confirmed to OPB multiple arrests happened near county courthouses in January.

The Multnomah County Courthouse in downtown Portland. ICE confirmed to OPB multiple arrests happened near county courthouses in January.

Bradley W. Parks/OPB

Balmer said he understands the role law enforcement plays in the justice system.

“I trust that you understand as well the central role that the Oregon courts play in our state’s criminal justice system,” he wrote.

Balmer added the arrests could keep witnesses to crimes from testifying in court or victims of domestic violence from seeking a restraining order.

Balmer asked Sessions and Kelly to either stop making arrests at courthouses outright policy or to expand the definition of “sensitive locations” under Homeland Security guidelines to include courthouses. Those sensitive areas have traditionally included places likes schools and churches.

Balmer was first appointed to the Oregon Supreme Court in 2001 by Gov. John Kitzhaber, and won election to the seat in 2002, 2008 and 2012.