Spanish version (Versión en español): ICE Confirma Los Temores De Funcionarios Locales Sobre Detenciones De Inmigrantes En La Corte De Justicia
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents made 64 arrests in Oregon and Southwest Washington in January. Five of those were of foreign nationals arrested at or near courthouses in Multnomah County, according to an official with the federal government.
The announcement of the arrests at courthouses confirms the fears of public officials and immigration activists.
On Friday, attorneys raised concerns about plainclothes immigration enforcement agents who eyewitnesses said were asking people — predominantly people of color — to identify themselves inside the Multnomah County Courthouse in downtown Portland.
A federal government official speaking on background said the five people arrested at or near courthouses in Multnomah County this month were foreign nationals from Mexico and Honduras. Of the five, three were convicted felons, one had been convicted of theft and another had been charged with a DUII, the official said.
ICE declined an interview request. But in a statement, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice stressed the agency’s actions were routine and part of a longstanding policy aimed at public safety.
“With regard to enforcement actions at or in close proximity to courthouses, ICE has issued guidance to its personnel specific to that issue,” Kice said. “However, due to law enforcement sensitivities, we haven’t released the details of that guidance.”
In her statement, Kice said that since Multnomah County doesn’t cooperate with ICE, “and because many of the agency’s arrest targets provide false address information, locating these individuals at a courthouse is, in some instances, the agency’s only likely means of affecting their capture.”
Two attorneys confirmed to OPB they saw several plainclothes federal immigration enforcement officers in the courthouse hallway, waiting for people to exit courtrooms.
The attorneys said they thought there were four ICE agents, who positioned themselves in the hallway on Friday so people coming and going had to walk past them.
“I think they had checked dockets at the door for particular names and wanted to wait it out,” defense attorney Peyton Lee said.
“They spoke with at least one of my clients who is a full citizen, but at least appears Hispanic and has a Hispanic last name,” Lee said. “They stopped him and his mother in the hallway and asked them to identify themselves and then let him walk on when they concluded that wasn’t who they were waiting for.”
Once attorneys became aware of the situation, they took their clients out via a different exit, said Jack Kinsey, another defense lawyer.
"I managed to get out in the hallway and observe them surreptitiously," Kinsey said. "They were harassing predominantly non-white people. I walked past the officers several times, and they never questioned me — and I'm a tall, skinny white guy in a suit."
Once Kinsey realized what the agents were doing, he said he went to each courtroom and told attorneys ICE agents were in the hall.
Judge Nan Waller, the presiding judge in Multnomah County, said ICE’s actions are undermining the county’s efforts at criminal justice reform.
"Our concerns is there is a rise in fear that will keep people out of the courthouse who need to come into the courthouse for an eviction case or a restraining order or a lawsuit that they are filing," she said Monday. "We are encouraging ICE to see courthouses as sensitive locations, and not to, to the extent possible, enter the courthouse to make arrests."
Waller said the county courthouse is a public building, and she doesn't have any control over ICE's actions.
Judge Edward Jones, Multnomah County’s chief criminal judge, said another concern is wage theft cases.
“When people don’t get paid, they have a right to sue their employer for the wages they didn’t get,” he said, noting the law is clear that a person’s immigration status is irrelevant in such cases.
“Every day there’s a story about somebody getting arrested in the courthouse on an immigration issue, you can be sure there are people who didn’t get paid who will think twice about filing that claim to recover their wages,” Jones said.
Lane Borg, director of the Metropolitan Public Defenders, said the way ICE is going about its job causes other problems.
“They’re certainly creating more fear,” Borg said. “Are they going to create more problems through the enforcement this way than they’re trying to solve? Because they’re really making people afraid to go to where they would normally go to get redress.”
The U.S. Attorney’s office is setting up a meeting with local and federal law enforcement agencies, including ICE, to discuss President Trump’s executive order on immigration.
Since October, Portland-based ICE officers have made 280 arrests in Oregon and Southwest Washington, the agency reported.
Editor's note: This story was updated Tuesday, Jan. 31, at 6:30 p.m. PST with new arrest data from ICE that was released late Tuesday.