The chief justice of the Washington state Supreme Court wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Tuesday, calling for ICE agents to treat courthouses as a "sensitive location."
Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst told KIRO 7 that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement already has a designated set of "sensitive locations," defined as places where agents only go to as a last resort. These would include schools, hospitals and places of worship.
Fairhurst said she would like courthouses to be added to that list.
“They are families in crisis, or going – needing divorces, child support, child custody. They also could be witnesses to civil matters or criminal matters who need to appear at court for the court to be able to work effectively,” Fairhurst said.
She said she heard of one incident when a defendant did not show up for a case because he was picked up the previous week upon leaving the courthouse. ICE agents were waiting outside.
When asked whether this request would impede the work of federal agents, she said it would not because they are free to work elsewhere away from the courthouse.
Fairhurst said complaints of increased presence by ICE at court came from Clark, Clallam, Cowlitz, Skagit, Mason, King and Chelan counties.
She said this has been a problem in the past, but the issue was resolved through conversation with all parties. She said she is unsure why there has been a resurgence in their presence around courthouses.
Jay Stratton, an immigration attorney, said domestic violence victims who are undocumented are particularly at risk. He said they have been afraid to report crimes and walk into a courthouse to file for a protection order, for fear of encountering ICE.
The Seattle office for ICE gave KIRO 7 News this statement.
Once DHS receives the letter, they will respond to the Chief Justice directly.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportation officers carry out enforcement actions every day in locations around the country as part of the agency's mission to protect public safety, border security and the integrity of the nation's immigration system. The determinations about where and how ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) personnel carry out arrests are made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all aspects of the situation, including the prospective target's criminal history; safety considerations; the viability of the leads on the individual's whereabouts; and any sensitivities involving the prospective arrest location.
Current ICE policy directs agency personnel to avoid conducting enforcement activities at sensitive locations unless they have prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official or in the event of exigent circumstances. The locations specified in the guidance include schools, places of worship and hospitals. Under the policy, courthouses are not considered sensitive locations.
While ICE does arrest targets at courthouses, generally it's only after investigating officers have exhausted other options:
* Many of the arrest targets ICE has sought out at or near courthouses are foreign nationals who have prior criminal convictions in the U.S. In years past, most of these individuals would have been turned over to ICE by local authorities upon their release from jail based on ICE detainers.
* When criminal custody transfers occur inside the secure confines of a jail or prison, it's far safer for everyone involved, including our officers and the person who's being arrested.
* Now that many law enforcement agencies no longer honor ICE detainers, these individuals, who often have significant criminal histories, are released onto the street, presenting a potential public safety threat. When ICE Fugitive Operations officers have to go out into the community to proactively locate these criminal aliens, regardless of the precautions they take, it needlessly puts our personnel and potentially innocent bystanders in harm's way.
* Moreover, tracking down our priority fugitives is highly resource intensive. It's not uncommon for our criminal alien targets to utilize multiple aliases and provide authorities with false addresses. Many do not have a stable place of employment.
* Absent a viable address for a residence or place of employment, a courthouse may afford the most likely opportunity to locate a target and take him or her into custody.
* Additionally, because courthouse visitors are typically screened upon entry to search for weapons and other contraband, the safety risks for the arresting officers and for the arrestee are substantially diminished.
* In such instances where deportation officers seek to conduct an arrest at a courthouse, every effort is made to take the person into custody in a secure area, out of public view, but this is not always possible.
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