Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson has sued the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection over immigration sweeps in and around the state’s courthouses, stating that “the courthouse arrests are unlawful and unconstitutional,” cause “witnesses, victims, and others to refuse to enter courthouses,” and is “harmful to public safety” at large.
Mass deportation agents have detained hundreds of immigrants in and around courthouses across 20 counties since 2017, Ferguson’s office said, some targeting people who were going to court to settle minor traffic infractions, or just to accompany a relative. But in some instances, agents have even “detained crime victims or those appearing in court to protect themselves against violence—for example, by seeking protection orders against abusers.” This has a chilling effect, Thurston County prosecutor Jon Tunheim said, according to Ferguson’s office.
“Specifically, undocumented domestic violence victims have expressed to their advocates that they no longer feel safe reporting abuse to the authorities for fear of deportation,” he said. “This leaves them and their family at high risk of abuse. The perpetrators with legal status use that privilege as an additional control tactic against undocumented victims by consistently threatening to deport them and separate them from their children.”
One report from earlier this year found that abusers have increasingly weaponized ICE against victims. According to Immigrant Defense Project’s ICE Out of Courts Coalition, “reports of alleged abusers threatening to call ICE to stop their victims from seeking help has skyrocketed by 78.6 percent since early 2017.” One advocate said according to the report that “[s]everal clients mentioned their abusers were directly using the news to instill fear in clients.” Another “client mentioned her abuser screamed at her during a violent incident ‘If Trump is president then I can do whatever I want.’”
Ferguson hopes to replicate a success from Massachusetts earlier this year, where a federal judge blocked federal immigration agents from sweeps inside courthouses, a ruling that was the result of a lawsuit launched by prosecutors in the state. “Criminal defendants will be unable to vindicate their rights if they are taken into ICE custody prior to appearing in court,” said U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani in her ruling, “or if witnesses in their defense are too fearful to visit a courthouse.”
But that’s exactly what federal immigration agents are doing—and they know it. “If immigration officials can demonstrate that their courthouse arrests only target dangerous criminals, I will drop this lawsuit,” Ferguson said regarding his court action. “But they won’t do that because they can’t. The federal government has arrested many people who are simply trying to access justice for themselves or their families. That’s illegal, it makes us all less safe, and it needs to stop.” The statement from Ferguson’s office said he’s “now filed 53 lawsuits against the Trump Administration and has not lost a case.” Here’s to the trend continuing.