Advocates and legal experts told New Jersey’s Assembly Judiciary Committee that ICE’s ongoing arrests at courthouses continue to terrify immigrant domestic violence victims and others seeking to access the justice system. Despite extraordinary pleas from two state Supreme Court chief justices, Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Sec. John Kelly refuse to back down their terror campaign and classify courthouses as “sensitive locations” that should be avoided by ICE. The experts told the panel “that the problem is much larger” than what the state’s chief justice told Kelly in his letter last April, because “the majority of such arrests are not happening in state criminal courts, but rather in and around municipal and family courts”:
“It’s not just that someone who’s a major drug dealer is now being arrested inside a courtroom, but it’s people … who have tickets for unlicensed driving and no other offenses other than being here without status,” explained Susan Roy, an officer with the New Jersey chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “So you sort of wonder at this point: Do the ends justify the means?”
“A true system of justice must have the public’s confidence,” wrote New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner in his letter. “When individuals fear that they will be arrested for a civil immigration violation if they set foot in a courthouse, serious consequences are likely to follow. Witnesses to violent crimes may decide to stay away from court and remain silent. Victims of domestic violence and other offenses my choose not to testify against their attackers.”
“We encourage the vulnerable to come to our courthouses for help,” said California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye in an op-ed that same month. “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.”
The fact is that Donald Trump’s mass deportation dragnet—aided and abetted by Sessions and Kelly—is a domestic abuser’s dream come true, hindering the work of city prosecutors and local law enforcement by arresting thousands of undocumented immigrants with no criminal record and giving undocumented domestic violence victims and others little choice but to back “out of cases for fear of drawing the attention of immigration enforcement agents”:
Four domestic violence cases in Denver were dropped recently after victims refused to cooperate with law enforcement. At least one domestic violence victim in Travis County, Texas, has hesitated to move forward with a case, citing similar concerns. More broadly, immigrants have begun to retreat from courthouses to avoid being detained and deported by ICE. There have been several recent reports of ICE arrests of undocumented immigrants in courthouses, although not of arrests of victims of domestic violence, outside of the El Paso case.
According to the Los Angeles Police Department chief, “reports of rape among the city’s Latino population have declined by 25 percent, compared to the same period last year. Domestic violence reports have dropped nearly 10 percent.” Advocates in New Jersey, California, and other states fear this problem will only get worse if ICE continues its campaign of fear and terror. “This erodes faith in the justice system," said Jeanne LoCicero, the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.