A bipartisan civil rights panel on Monday objected to the practice of arresting illegal immigrants in local courthouses, saying that “access to justice” is hindered by immigration agents who use the tactic.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) released a statement criticizing Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly for giving immigration agents a green light to conduct operations in judicial facilities.
“Stationing ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents in local courthouses instills needless additional fear and anxiety within immigrant communities, discourages interacting with the judicial system, and endangers the safety of entire communities,” the group wrote.
The USCCR is composed of eight members appointed to six-year terms by Congress and the president. By law, no more than four commissioners can be from the same political party — there are currently four Democrats, three independents and one Republican on the panel.
The commission’s statement is the latest criticism of aggressive enforcement tactics employed by immigration agents under the Trump administration.
House Democrats recently introduced a bill that would bar ICE from arresting illegal immigrants marked for deportation at “sensitive” locations, including all federal, state and local courthouses. And in March, the chief justices of the California and Washington state supreme courts wrote separate letters to Sessions and Kelly, asking them to refrain from sending ICE agents to make arrests in state courthouses. As in the USCCR letter, the judges claimed access to justice is harmed by the presence of immigration agents.
“When people are afraid to appear for court hearings, out of fear of apprehension by immigration officials, their ability to access justice is compromised,” Washington Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote. “Their absence curtails the capacity of our judges, clerks and court personnel to function effectively.”
Not every member of the USCCR agrees with that argument. Commissioner Peter Kirsanow, the lone Republican on the eight-member panel, called the USCCR statement “incoherent” and said the group’s position “converts illegal immigrants into a protected class treated more favorably than others who are in violation of the law.”
“There is no exception under the law for arrests at courthouses,” Kirsanow told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email. “Police often arrest individuals at courthouses for violations of laws other than those related to immigration. Plainly, the Commission’s majority simply doesn’t like enforcement of immigration law, period.”
Fellow commissioner Gail Heriot, a registered independent, also dissented from the USCCR statement.
Trump administration officials haven’t backed off their support of making immigration arrests at courthouses. The Department of Homeland Security confirmed earlier in April that ICE agents will use the tactic if they believe an illegal immigrant poses a threat to public safety. (RELATED: DHS Rejects Public Pressure To Stop Making Arrests Of Illegal Immigrants At Courthouses)
“Just because they’re a victim in a certain case does not mean there’s not something in their background that could cause them to be a removable alien,” DHS spokesman David Lapan told reporters. “Just because they’re a witness doesn’t mean they might not pose a security threat for other reasons.”
Sessions and Kelly jointly wrote a letter to California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye that defended the right of ICE agents to make arrest where probable cause allows. They also said courthouse arrests are necessary because of sanctuary city policies that make it harder for ICE agents to arrest removable aliens at local jails. (RELATED: Seesions And Kelly Tell California Judge She Should Know Better)
Kirsanow ripped the USCCR’s claim that courthouses should be off-limits just because they provide services that are “integral to an individual’s life.” Taken to its logical conclusion, he said, that policy would eliminate most government facilities from consideration.
“By that standard, no illegal immigrants could be arrested at the DMV, police stations, or local IRS office,” Kirsanow told TheDCNF.
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