Earlier this month, California’s Supreme Court chief justice ripped Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security John Kelly over ICE’s deplorable tactic of arresting undocumented immigrants at courthouses, arguing that this tramples on public trust of the justice system. You’d think that the guy who actually heads the Justice Department would already know this, but nope, because Sessions shot back that arrests will continue, public safety be damned. Now in a Washington Post rebuttal, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye is publicly “asking that immigration agents treat courthouses as “sensitive” areas—as they do schools, churches and hospitals. My request is that they respect the safety needs of the state court system and those who access it”:
We encourage the vulnerable to come to our courthouses for help. But immigration arrests, or the fear of arrests at or near courthouses, disrupt court activities and the lives of those seeking justice. The well-publicized immigration arrests at courthouses in Los Angeles and elsewhere have disrupted court business and deterred litigants. One judge said there was “near hysteria” among civil litigants recently when they thought immigration agents were about to raid a courthouse.
An attorney in a small, rural county who assists self-represented litigants with landlord-tenant problems, domestic violence issues, probate and guardianships said litigants are too afraid to come to court. I worry that both documented and undocumented immigrants will no longer cooperate with state and local law-enforcement agencies; crimes or civil wrongs will go unreported and communities will live in fear.
Some of the comments I’ve received after I sent my letter suggest that I am against enforcement of our immigration laws. I am not. I ask for sensible enforcement tactics that do not undermine due process, fairness and access to justice in our state court systems.
Numerous reports from local law enforcement departments in California, Texas, and elsewhere have shown that reported incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault from immigrant communities have gone down, not because rates are lowering, but because they’re afraid of exposing their legal status to police. In Houston, Police Chief Art Acevedo revealed data showing that the number of Latinos reporting rape is down nearly 43 percent from last year. Sessions and Kelly would be smart to listen to the wisdom of Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, but then again this is also a man who was reckless and dumb enough to lie under oath during the confirmation hearings to become the nation’s lead law enforcement officer.