US Attorney General Rejects Oregon's Rule Barring Courthouse Immigration Arrests

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)
Portland, Ore. Nov. 22, 2019 6:23 p.m.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr criticized Oregon's new court rules that block federal immigration agents from making arrests at or near courthouses unless officers have a judicial warrant. The Nov. 21 letter was also signed by Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and warned Washington state's supreme court chief justice about adopting similar rules.

Barr and Wolf said the rules don’t apply to federal immigration officers and urged the states to not “adopt or enforce court rules.”


Last week, Oregon's Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters announced new rules that block immigration arrests at or near the state's courthouses, unless the officers have signed judicial warrants.

The joint letter is addressed to both Walters and Washington Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst, who is considering similar rules.


Both states are so-called "sanctuary communities" that have largely declined to aid federal immigration officials in their efforts to deport immigrants who are in the country unlawfully.

The attorney general and acting secretary told the justices Congress has said immigration officers don’t need warrants signed by a judge. They added that under the supremacy clause of the Constitution, the rules “cannot and will not govern the conduct of federal officers …”

“Given the clear public danger posed by these state laws and policies, we urge you not to adopt or enforce court rules that would make the situation worse by purporting to require ICE or CPB to obtain a judicial arrest warrant prior to making an administrative arrest for deportation,” Barr and Wolf wrote.

Walters declined through a spokesperson to comment. A spokesperson for the Washington Supreme Court also declined to comment on the letter. Though in 2017, Fairhurst wrote a letter to the Trump administration expressing her concerns about immigration arrests in and around Washington's courthouses.

The new rules follow several high-profile arrests made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers at courthouses around the Northwest. Activists and some officials have worried the arrests have a chilling effect on immigrants who want to access the justice system.

Courts in New York and New Jersey have issued similar statewide policies. But a U.S. Justice Department spokesperson said those states have not received a letter. Last month, California lawmakers passed similar protections for immigrants.